Ecstasy Could Help Survivors of Sexual AssaultS

The party drug MDMA, colloquially known as the party drug Ecstasy, can be used to cure patients of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study of experimental testing of combining the drug with psychotherapy. The research, however, was not conducted on war veterans, a group most often associated with PTSD, but with rape victims, who, on average, had been living with their symptoms for 19 years.

Back in the early 2000s, Dr. Michael Mithoefer received the green-light from the DEA for clinical trials of MDMA. Along with his wife Ann, a nurse, he would administer two doses of MDMA over one intensive therapy session that lasted between eight and ten hours, following a week-long series of shorter, non-drug sessions. Then they would repeat the process three to five weeks later. During the drug-induced session Dr. Mithoefer would have the patient focus on their sexual assaults. The MDMA seemed to reduce their fear and calm them, enabling them to discuss and work through their problems in ways that they previously could not.

According to the study, the patients symptoms of PTSD (anxiety, hyperarousal, depression, nightmares, etc.) dropped by 75%, which is "twice the relief" patients experienced with non-MDMA therapy. And the 15 out of 21 people who recovered, remained that way, nearly 10 years after treatment.

One woman who worked with the Mithoefers, Rachel Hope, shared her story with CNN. She was raped repeatedly when she was four years old after her mother went out of town and left her in the care of a pedophile for six weeks. Decades later, in 1998, the news that the man who'd sexually abused her was being investigated for molesting another girl caused Hope to have a breakdown.

"I started having these outrageous flashbacks, and body memories. The first time, I thought someone slipped me a drug. Because it would be these unstoppable, full-body blackout memories, and people would tell me later, 'You were just screaming for an hour.'"

Her symptoms were debilitating, involving panic attacks, anxiety attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, bleeding ulcers, and nausea. She'd been hospitalized multiple times. Hope tried nearly every form of therapy—eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, and gestalt therapy—to no avail. She began to accept that she just might be disabled. And then she read about Mithoefers. Within weeks of working with them, she says that 90% of her symptoms were gone.

Naturally, the military is very interested in the Mithoefers' results. Loree Sutton, who served as an Army psychiatrist until she retired two years ago, finds the research "promising." Since publishing his work, Dr. Mithoefer began treating veterans, police officers, and firemen. But civilians actually make up the majority of the seven million people suffering with PTSD, many of them being survivors of sexual assault.

Image via Imageman/Shutterstock

A ‘Party Drug' May Help the Brain Cope With Trauma [NYT]
Ecstasy to treat PTSD: One woman's story [CNN]