Follow-up data from a Phase III trial is the latest to suggest that MDMA—also known as ecstasy—could improve mental health when combined with therapy. The study found that MDMA-assisted therapy was better than talk therapy alone in relieving the symptoms of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, and that this relief remained durable months later. The results from this trial and others will likely pave the way to a formal approval of MDMA by the Food and Drug Administration in the near future.
MDMA, formally called 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, is a synthetic drug with both stimulant and psychedelic effects. It can produce feelings of increased elation, empathy, and a distorted sense of time and space. These properties made it a popular club drug, which led to its designation as an illegal substance by the U.S. federal government in the 1980s. But even before then, a small group of psychologists had experimented with using MDMA as a way to boost the effects of talk therapy sessions.
MDMA-assisted therapy has received renewed attention from the scientific world as of late, buoyed by new research and a successful push for the legalization of drugs in general. And in the last few years, the FDA has agreed to consider a formal approval of MDMA for PTSD, pending positive results from randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III trials, which are considered the gold standard of clinical research.