As Veterans Day unfolds, it prompts contemplation on the multifaceted challenges faced by individuals who have served in the military. Among the complexities lies post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that affects a substantial number of military personnel. Recent years have witnessed a transformative development in the realm of PTSD treatment, with our co-publishing partners, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), emerging as a key player in reshaping mental health care for those who have experienced the harsh realities of war.
Navigating Unseen Wounds
For veterans, the aftermath of war often leaves wounds that aren’t immediately visible. PTSD can manifest as a persistent and debilitating presence, affecting various aspects of an individual’s life. Conventional treatments, while beneficial for some, may fall short in providing relief for all. It is in this context that the innovative strategies employed by MAPS become particularly significant.Exploring the healing mechanisms behind MDMA in his book Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, journalist Don Lattin writes, “Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how PTSD affects the brain, and how MDMA may work in treating that mental dysfunction. The neuroscience is still progressing, but it seems clear that it is related to how the brain detects danger and processes feelings of fear. MDMA makes people less fearful, and more trusting, so it makes sense that it would be a valuable tool for therapists treating people who are unable to process fearful memories in a way that does not overwhelm them.”
MAPS’ Contribution to PTSD Treatment
MAPS, a non-profit organization dedicated to research and education, has been at the forefront of investigating the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, notably MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), in addressing PTSD. MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, has demonstrated remarkable efficacy in a controlled and therapeutic setting, aiding individuals in processing and healing from traumatic experiences.
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration awarded “breakthrough therapy” status to MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD treatment, enabling an expedited development process for promising experimental drugs. Subsequently, breakthrough status was granted to psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression in 2018. This designation accelerates the development of potentially impactful treatments in their respective therapeutic domains.
Clinical trials conducted by MAPS indicate that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can lead to substantial reductions in PTSD symptoms. The approach involves carefully guided sessions in which individuals, under the influence of MDMA, explore their traumatic memories with the support of trained therapists. This process facilitates a deeper connection with emotions and memories, offering a potential path to profound and enduring healing.
Most recently, MAPS conducted its second Phase III clinical trial with MDMA, finding that the substance in conjunction with psychotherapy is effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD. MAPS intends to submit the findings to the Food and Drug Administration as a component of an application seeking approval to market MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD.
Involving a total of 104 participants, the study revealed that 86.5 percent of individuals in the MDMA group saw a measurable reduction in symptom severity. Additionally, around 71 percent of those in the MDMA group improved to the extent that they no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, according to researchers.
In a recent New York Times article, Berra Yazar-Klosinski, the senior author of the study shared, “MDMA-assisted therapy would be the first novel treatment for PTSD in over two decades,” if approved.
On this Veterans Day, as we contemplate the experiences of those who have served, it is essential to acknowledge the ongoing struggles they may face. MAPS’ pioneering work in the field of PTSD treatment offers a glimmer of hope, presenting an innovative avenue for healing the unseen wounds of war. By supporting organizations like MAPS and advocating for progressive approaches to mental health care, we contribute to a future where individuals, regardless of their background, can access comprehensive and effective support.