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Rachel, 43, says she suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder for 19 years after a childhood filled with neglect, abuse, and sexual assault. She says she sought every treatment available to help curb her constant mental breakdowns, panic attacks and hospitalizations for stress-induced ulcers, but none of them worked. If it weren’t for her two children, she says, she would have ended her life.
Desperate for help, Rachel agreed to participate in a controversial, FDA-approved clinical trial that involved using the illicit drug MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly, to “re-boot” the patient’s brain and help them discuss with a clinical psychiatrist the traumatic events at the root of their disorder.
- Watch footage from one of Rachel’s therapy sessions, in which she experiences a breakthrough while under the influence of MDMA.
Rachel’s therapist, Dr. Julie Holland, explains that MDMA massively increases serotonin – a chemical in the brain that helps you feel relaxed and calm – as well as dopamine, which helps you stay alert, and oxytocin, which helps you bond with people and be more trusting – an aspect that is crucial for a patient-therapist relationship during psychotherapy. She states that traditional anti-anxiety medications can make one less focused and drowsy, which is not conducive to an effective therapy session.
Rachel says she is now cured of her PTSD after just three MDMA-assisted therapy sessions. She says the drug allowed her to discuss her childhood trauma, which she’d never been able to talk about before without re-traumatizing herself. The drug, she says, rewired her brain so she could confront her experiences, then file the memories away instead of reliving them.
- Dr. Holland explains how this treatment could potentially be used to help war veterans suffering with PTSD.
When asked if she felt a need to continue to take MDMA, Rachel says no. “I’ve never done recreational drugs, and I never had a desire to,” she says. “So, I’m not at risk [of becoming addicted] anyway, but to my knowledge, people coming out of the study have no need to go back. We get the value [of the treatment] and it lasts.”
ER physician Dr. Travis Stork emphasizes that this treatment is conducted in a clinical setting, under the care of a licensed psychiatrist, with a specific dose of medical-grade MDMA. Recreational use of the drug is very dangerous and is not advised.