A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that a drug that goes by the name ecstasy can help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when combined with psychotherapy.

In a clinical trial with 20 PTSD patients, 83 percent of the participants showed no symptoms of PTSD when they were treated with a combination of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and psychotherapy.

The patients in the study had been suffering from chronic PTSD for an average of 19 years and did not find relief from standard treatments such as psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. Out of the 20 participants, 12 received the drug and 8 patients received a placebo.Both groups were randomly assigned to two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions. Follow-ups were conducted four days and two months after each day-long session.

When the patients’ response was evaluated based on Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale, the results revealed that the
scores was significantly greater for the group that received MDMA than for the placebo group.

Typically, PTSD treatment is conducted in a therapeutic setting where the patient is made to revisit the trauma, explained the study lead researcher Dr. Michael Mithoefer. When patients become overwhelmed by anxiety or numb themselves emotionally, they can’t successfully engage in the treatment. "But what we found is that the MDMA seemed to temporarily decrease fear without blunting emotions, and so it helped patients better process their grief," he said.

At the end of the trial, more than 80 percent of the patients who received MDMA no longer had PTSD symptoms. Three patients who could not go to work because of PTSD reported that they were able to return to work after MDMA treatment.

The researchers said that side effects of the drug are not serious although patients had raised blood pressure and other symptoms after taking the drug.

The study was sponsored by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and a larger study in military veterans is underway.

MAPS hopes to develop MDMA which was criminalized in 1985 into a FDA-approved prescription medication for patients suffering PTSD.