For decades, MDMA (also referred to as Ecstasy or Molly, for molecular) has been an illicit drug of abuse. In December of 2016, however, it received FDA approval for a Phase 3 clinical trial for treatment of PTSD, which will include 230 patients.
MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) is undertaking a roughly $25 million plan to make MDMA into a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription medicine by 2021, and is currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
Phase 2 study results appear promising when MDMA is administered carefully by psychiatrists, in conjunction with psychotherapy. Patients who had struggled with PTSD for over seventeen years showed a 56% decrease in severity of symptoms after three doses of MDMA.
MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) was developed in Germany in the early 1900s as a parent compound to be used to synthesize other pharmaceuticals. During the 1970s, in the United States, some psychiatrists began using MDMA as a psychotherapeutic tool, despite the fact that the drug had never undergone formal clinical trials nor received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans. Nevertheless, the drug gained a small following among psychiatrists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, because it was perceived to enhance communication in patient sessions and reportedly allowed users to achieve insights about their problems. It was also during this time that MDMA first started becoming available on the street and became popular in the club or “rave” scene due to its stimulant and psychedelic properties. It is often taken for the feelings of well-being, stimulation, and the distortions in time and sensory perceptions that it produces. In 1985, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) banned the drug, placing it on its list of Schedule I drugs, corresponding to those substances with no proven therapeutic value.
It’s important to note that MDMA is not the same as “Ecstasy” or “Molly.” Substances sold on the street under these names may contain MDMA, but frequently also contain unknown and/or dangerous adulterants. In laboratory studies, pure MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses.