Saturday, February 12, 2011

Is MDMA Useful?

     Methylenedioxymethmphetamine or MDMA is the active ingredient in ecstasy.  Ecstasy fueled a party culture in the 1980's and 90's in North America and Europe.  Ecstasy goes by the nickname "E" which stands for euphoria, energy, empathy, and escape.  Rumors swirled that it could cause nervous breakdowns, Parkinson's disease, memory loss, and even death. MDMA has been accused of being many things including a killer.  However, some therapists claim that it can help patients move beyond horrible feelings that torture them and help light the way out of an unspeakable past.  It's kind of like MDMA started getting a bad reputation because of ecstasy. 
     Thousands of practitioners have risked their licenses to use MDMA in underground clinics since 1985.  It was labeled as a Schedule I by the Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA, for substances with no approved medical use and a high risk for abuse.  The effects of a dose lasts for 4 hours.  It initiates a surge in serotonin and dopamine.  They are neuro-chemicals associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure.  It also gives a surge of oxytocin. This chemical gives a feeling of trust and bonding.  MDMA controls the fear center in the brain, the amygdola, and suppresses the fight-or-flight response.  The apprehension, that a trauma patient could suffer, is silenced with no sedative effects of anti-anxiety medications.  It helps a victim of abuse or an injured veteran live a life free of pain.  Also, it can be used to treat depression, eating disorders, end-of-life anxiety, chronic pain, and PTSD.
     Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, leaves psychological scars on the human brain.  When a person experiences a traumatic event such as a tour of duty, a rape, or a car accident, the amygdola sends panic messages to the body.  past events resurface in the present in the form of flashbacks and nightmares.  With PTSD, you exhaust your energy trying to get work, paying the bills, and keeping up the facade that you are "normal."  Then, when something else goes wrong, it triggers fight-or-flight and you panic.

     Of course, it is not all good.  There are risks with MDMA.  Along with increasing blood pressure and heart rate, it causes the heart to pump inefficiently.  MDMA can have adverse effects when taken with other medications causing serotonin syndrome.  This is when the brain overdoses on serotonin, resulting in tremors, sweating, and hallucinations.  In more serious cases, it can lead to hyperthermia or an increase in body temperature, which can bring on seizures, a coma, renal failure, and possibly death.
     The some professionals believe the safer alternative to MDMA is prolonged exposure or PE therapy.  PE therapy is when patients go over the details of their trauma in 8 to fifteen weekly sessions.  There is a 95% success rate in cases where the patients complete the course.  But, 20% of the people that start PE therapy, drop out.
     MDMA is risky to an extent but most drugs are.  It's a case of risk versus reward.  If I was a military veteran that suffered from PTSD, would I want some take MDMA and get some of my sanity back?  Or if I were a rape victim, would I want to end all of those horrible nightmares?  I feel a big part of the negativity of MDMA has to do with the fact that it is associated with ecstasy.  What do you think?  Do you think that trauma patients should have to go with PE therapy, where they relive their traumatic experience over and over or be able to use MDMA where they can basically face and forget the event with a clean mind?

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