By Kati Weis

BOULDER (CBS4) – Scientists in Boulder participating in a nationwide study believe they have found a breakthrough treatment for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It involves the use of MDMA – known on the streets as a club drug called ecstasy – paired with regular therapy sessions.

(credit: Scott Ostrom)

The study had phase three trials across the country and in Boulder, and was just published in Nature Medicine magazine.

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The study put participants through a few sessions of therapy before administering the MDMA. Then, participants had three MDMA-assisted therapy sessions.

All participants who were given the MDMA – not the placebo – saw significant decreases in their PTSD symptoms, and 67% no longer qualify for a PTSD diagnosis.

“MDMA provides generates a sense of well being, a sense of bonding and trust, so it’s almost like a way to, to give participants, a sense of a net that they don’t have to fall through the cracks and fall into this deep hole, when they’re looking at their trauma, because they have this support of the MDMA, supporting that process of them going into the different experiences in their lives that have been challenging,” explained Marcella Ot’alora G, a researcher at the Boulder site. “And so MDMA works really well with that. And in addition to that, it, it deactivates part of the amygdala, where the fear response is, so fear, which is very common with people with PTSD, gets mitigated and makes room for more compassion, more trust in the process, so that fear doesn’t stop them, which I think it happens sometimes in other treatments.”

Ot’alora G says the results follow 20 years of research on the issue. She says it’s been powerful to see study participants have breakthroughs during the treatment sessions.

(credit: CBS)

“It just makes me really emotional to think about it, in terms of it’s really watching someone have the insight that maybe they haven’t had before, and most important, to see themselves as their true essence, and not as just the wounded part, they began to see other aspects of themselves that maybe have been a little hidden, and those come out and come forward,” Ot’alora explained. “So I think we get a chance to see who they truly are, as a whole person, in addition to what has happened to them.”

Scott Ostrom, of Berthoud, was one of the study participants at the Boulder site. He served in the Marine Corps for four years in the Iraq War. He’s suffered from PTSD since returning from his second deployment in 2007.

“I think a lot of combat veterans just think about suicide on daily basis, whether you’re going to act on it or have a plan to do it, I think it’s something that’s kind of always in the back of your mind,” Ostrom said. “Sometimes things get really hard, and it seems like a solution.”

He had crippling nightmares.

“Nightmares where you’re engaged in combat and then the bullets just dribble out of the end of your gun, or you get separated from your team and you can’t find them, and the enemy is watching you and looking for you and you’re trying to link back up with your team, but you can’t,” Ostrom recalled. “Oftentimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night, I never really got continuous sleep, and then when I when I would wake up, I’d be on edge and feel like I just woke up from a fight.”

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That all changed when he participated in the MDMA-Assisted Therapy study.

“That MDMA treatment was the agent for my change,” Ostrom said. “It was the catalyst for me to actually start living again and not be in some sort of stranglehold… I was afraid, I was really angry, and I’m not that person anymore.”

Ostrom said the MDMA allowed him to revisit his painful memories and discussions with his families and see things in a new light.

“A big part of having PTSD is those memories and that trauma gets attached to your ego, and who you are as a person, and MDMA has this beautiful way of dissolving that ego,” Ostrom explained. “It just completely gets rid of it, and it just allows you to be that objective person, and not your trauma when you’re on that medicine, and so with the help of those clinicians, you can figure out how that key fits in that lock and open that up.”

Some experts caution that the treatment may not be the miracle cure, and some ay MDMA use can have a variety of negative health effects. But Ot’alora G says she hasn’t seen long-term adverse effects.

“We’ve done this for a long time, and in our research in a research setting, we haven’t found that MDMA has caused adverse events where people have had to go to the hospital for instance, the adverse events that they have had, had been temporary, you know there’s a lack of appetite, sometimes dizziness,” Ot’alora G said. “I do think we need to be cautious about any medicine right, any kind of medicine is going to have some side effects, and we want to continue doing the research for that and for the safety measures, but we haven’t found that in a safe setting.”

(credit: CBS)

Ot’alora G says the study must undergo part two of the the phase three trials, and the the research will be submitted for FDA approval. She believes the approval process could begin in about a year.

“It’s definitely an option that is pretty valuable at this point, because we don’t have that many options to work with PTSD in a way that really alleviates the suffering,” she said.

Ostrom says he hopes the study will be approved, so others can have the opportunity to heal, as well.

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“I created a lot of turmoil in my life because I felt like I needed it, and now I’m dealing with that, those ripples are still there, but I did only get three sessions, and we accomplished what we were there to do, but I really hope this gets approved because I would like a couple more,” Ostrom said. “Life’s not getting any easier for anyone, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of trauma in the world, so it would be nice if you could ease that pain for a larger group of people.”

Kati Weis