Will Ecstasy Work for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
You know it as the "club drug." However, ecstasy may also play a role in treating a prevalent anxiety disorder called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What is Ecstasy?
Ecstasy, or MDMA (3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine), is a synthetic, psychoactive drug similar to methamphetamine and mescaline. It produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, and emotional warmth, and distorts time and perception. Ecstasy effects serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and aggression.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to events in which people experience grave physical harm or are threatened by harm. Although PTSD is common among war veterans, it can also affect people who've experienced abuse and other trauma. Experts believe that prolonged exposure to life-threatening events can trigger neurobiological alterations in our nervous and neuroendocrine systems, which make us more reactive to stimuli but dampen our attention, memory, and learning ability.
People with PTSD struggle with persistent frightening thoughts and memories, and sleep disturbances. They may feel detached, numb, and be easily startled.
Mental health professionals treat PTSD much as they do other anxiety disorders, with psychotherapy, medications such as antidepressants, or both. In particular, exposure therapy, a type of psychotherapy, seems to be effective treating PTSD. During exposure therapy, patients learn to control and face their fear by repeatedly recalling their traumatic experience in a safe environment with a trained psychotherapist. Over time, exposure therapy can help patients reduce their stress response and develop appropriate responses to trigger situations.
PTSD and Ecstasy
So what does ecstasy have to do with PTSD?
When people with anxiety take ecstasy, they become more emotionally engaged with their therapist and it decreases their emotional avoidance. It also improves tolerance for recall and processing painful memories. Researchers have found that giving patients ecstasy in combination with psychotherapy helps them learn to deal with their memories more effectively by encouraging a feeling of safety.
There are several hypothesis about why this works. Ecstasy increases the release of oxytocin, a hormone that enhances trust, empathy, and social closeness, so it may strengthen the patient-therapist relationship and improve the effectiveness of psychotherapy.
Scientists also believe ecstasy inhibits the fear response, which increases emotional control. And finally, it increases the release of noradrenalin (a neurotransmitter) and cortisol (a hormone released during stress), which triggers emotional learning.
Although there may be therapeutic benefits with Ecstasy, it is a powerful drug that can be harmful and potentially addictive. Do not take Ecstasy unless you are under the supervision of a qualified medical professional.
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Cassels, Caroline. "Persistent PTSD Symptoms Linked to Reduced Cognitive Function in Returning Veterans."
Archives of General Psychiatry 66 (2009): 996-1004. Medscape Medical News. Web. 17 September 2009.
Nierengarten, Mary Beth. "ADAA 2009: Exposure Therapy for PTSD May Benefit Older Veterans
Pilot Study Results Show Promise." Medscape Medical News. Web.18 March 2009.
Johansen, PO. "How could MDMA (ecstasy) help anxiety disorders? A neurobiological rationale." Journal of Psychopharmacology, Vol. 23, No. 4, (2009): 389-391 DOI: 10.1177/0269881109102787. Web. 1 June 2009. http://jop.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/23/4/389
National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Web. 3 May 2010. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
National Institute for Drug Abuse. "NIDA InfoFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy)." Web. March 2010.
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