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FDA approves large-scale drug trials of ecstasy for PTSD patients

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

Could MDMA, the powerful and illegal drug that often shows up in the nightclub scene and is known by the street name "ecstasy," help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder?

The FDA apparently thinks it's at least a possibility.

After successfully testing the drug in preliminary trials, the FDA has decided to move forward on large-scale trials with PTSD patients who will take the strong drug to combat their PTSD symptoms, according to the New York Times.

It looks like it might be time for the fight over marijuana legalization, which has made major progress in the last couple years, to take the back seat. If these trials are successful, ecstasy could be available for medicinal use as early as 2021.

The upcoming trials, which reportedly include 230 patients, will be sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The organization has previously studied the drug's impact on veterans, sexual assault victims and first responders suffering from PTSD.

"We can sometimes see this kind of remarkable improvement in traditional psychotherapy, but it can take years, if it happens at all," researcher Michael Mithoefer told the Times. "We think it works as a catalyst that speeds the natural healing process."

Rachel Hope, a PTSD patient who has taken MDMA, participated in a 2012 study and said the ecstasy helped her recall and confront the sexual abuse she experienced as a child.

"It allowed me to rewire my brain," she said.

But according to the Times, some medical professionals have major concerns about adding the drug to doctors' arsenal of tools to deal with PTSD. Charles Marmar, head of psychiatry at New York University's Langone School of Medicine, said ecstasy is a "feel-good drug" that could cause addiction problems and could ultimately "lead to serious damage to the brain."

"High doses of MDMA can affect the body's ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to a spike in body temperature that can occasionally result in liver, kidney, or heart failure or even death," a statement from the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded.

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