Ecstasy For PTSD: ‘It Gave Me My Life Back’

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July 19, 2018
By Mark Ackerman
BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)

Ecstasy For PTSD: ‘It Gave Me My Life Back’

Researchers in Boulder are trying to determine if an illegal club drug could be a viable treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

That’s right, licensed therapists here in Colorado have been treating patients with MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, during guided psychotherapy sessions. So far, the results have been positive. A much larger study will attempt to replicate the results at test sites across the country.

 
 
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Colleen was one of the 28 patients in the Boulder study.

“It was pretty brutal,” she said. “Having PTSD kind of takes over your entire life.”

Colleen said she developed PTSD in 2004 after a sexual assault.

“You are constantly in fight or flight mode,” she explained. “You have irrational fears that people don’t necessarily understand.”

Anxiety and panic attacks would follow. She lost her job and many of her friends, while suffering from the condition for the greater part of a decade.

“Everything I had worked hard for my entire life was slowly disappearing,” she said.

Traditional treatments fell short.

“I was willing to try anything to get rid of PTSD,” she said.

That’s when she heard about Boulder psychotherapist Marcela Ot’Alora G’s research into MDMA, a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception, and was initially popular in the all-night dance party, or rave scene.

“This is something that really needs to be available for more people,” Ot’Alora G said.

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MDMA was criminalized in 1985, but Ot’Alora has received DEA permission to dispense it in a clinical setting. During the trials, she gave her patients MDMA pills and then does intensive psychotherapy in eight-hour long sessions.

“People get in touch with parts of themselves that they have been avoiding because of fear,” she said.

The National Institute of Health says MDMA produces feelings of increased energy, pleasure and emotional warmth. It can also increase heart rate and blood pressure.

When the patients is under the influence, the researchers closely monitored the patients, playing music, and sometimes covering the patient’s eyes, so they could relax and focus on their thoughts.

“The MDMA takes away the chance of having panic attacks,” said Colleen who said the drug came on in waves, eliminating anxiety and inhibition.

“You can focus on your traumatic experience without being in that fight or flight mode,” she said the MDMA allows patients to look at the trauma from a different perspective and work through it in a safe place.

“It’s not about avoiding the symptoms but going toward the symptoms,” said Ot’Alora G, who said that after three sessions, 76 percent of her patients no longer have PTSD.

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A companion study of veterans in South Carolina produced similar results. A much larger, clinical trial will follow.

“The goal is to have really good results and then we can have MDMA as a prescription medication for PTSD,” she said.

For Colleen, the drug and the therapy has made a huge difference. She no longer exhibits symptoms and calls the treatment a cure.

“Life was very difficult in the beginning. By the end a lot of things changed,” she said. “It gave me my life back.”

Ot’Alora G strongly warns against taking the street drugs “ecstasy” or “molly”, saying what is sold on the black market rarely consists of MDMA.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4.
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