New Study Says MDMA Helps PTSD Victims Overcome Trauma

MDMA could be approved for common use by 2021.

A new study suggests that MDMA, also known as ecstasy, can help the brain relearn social behaviors and overcome trauma when used under the guidance of medical professionals.

The drug causes a neural response known as a "critical period" when "the brain is sensitive to learning the reward value of social behaviors," according to Johns Hopkins. Critical periods are times when the brain is most malleable and impressionable in a social sense, according to the researchers' study that was published in Nature magazine. Therefore, if scientists can "re-open" critical periods using MDMA, they may be able to use the drug to help the brain re-learn certain "social injury." 

In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared MDMA a "breakthrough therapy" for PTSD. The new research from Johns Hopkins points to the so-called "critical period" as a possible mechanism for why MDMA is an effective therapy. During their research, neuroscientist Gül Dölen and her team successfully demonstrated that they could reopen a group of mice's critical periods by using MDMA, showing that the mice responded to social situations "the same way as juveniles" after being given the dose. 

"This suggests that we've reopened a critical period in mice, giving them the ability to learn social reward behaviors at a time when they are less inclined to engage in these behaviors," Dölen said on the school's website.

Key to the "critical period" opening is activating the hormone oxytocin, which "encodes learning and memory," the researchers said. Oxytocin, more commonly known as "the love hormone," can signal to the brain that something feels positive and thus create a social reward that could override previous trauma, according to The Daily Mail.

The next step towards mainstreaming MDMA is earning approval from the Federal Drug Administration to be used outside of clinical trials. Because of it's "breakthrough" categorization, the drug could be approved as soon as 2021.  

Cover image via  Couperfield / Shutterstock.

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