Ecstasy ingredient green-lighted for controversial PTSD study

Keeping an open mind could advance treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. A pure form of the club drug Ecstasy has emerged as a key component of a controversial and experimental study now enrolling patients with PTSD, which has afflicted thousands of U.S. soldiers after their harrowing experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, Reuters reports.

South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer is spearheading the multiyear study, which closely monitors PTSD patients under treatment with the active Ecstasy ingredient called MDMA as well as talk therapy. The FDA and DEA have approved his studies, he told Reuters. As the news service reports, his previous research found that two months after being treated with the drug, 80% of patients' PTSD symptoms fell below the threshold of a positive diagnosis for the mental condition. And the benefits held up for 74% of the patients three and half years after treatment.

Mithoefer is among a growing number of investigators who have embraced the potential benefits of ingredients from street drugs for patients suffering from mental conditions with few treatment options. Across the Atlantic, Imperial College London's Prof. David Nutt has scored funding to test an active "magic" mushroom compound to combat depression. Nutt's outspoken support for researching alternative therapies--specifically a comment about Ecstasy--cost him his big job as chairman of an advisory council on drugs to the U.K. government. So they're up against a sticky stigma attached to the research.

Both PTSD and depression have crippling symptoms, and some sufferers respond poorly to existing therapies. In the case of PTSD, according to the VA website, available treatments include talk therapy and a class of antidepressants called SSRIs. In fact, one VA doc told Reuters that the government medical system for veterans might not touch Ecstasy with a "10-foot pole because of the type of drug it is." Others seem encouraged by the previous results of Mithoefer's research.

"It's a potentially important, new application of use for a set of compounds that have not been available for clinical research for decades now," Roland Griffiths, a professor in the psychiatry and neuroscience departments at Johns Hopkins University, told the news service. "PTSD is an awful, awful disease. … I don't think we should stick our heads in the sand."

- check out the Reuters article