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Ecstasy May Treat PTSD

Update Date: Jan 17, 2014 06:49 PM EST
Molly, MDMA, Ecstasy
Brain scans have revealed how ecstasy produces euphoric feelings in people who use them.
Researchers said the latest findings offer insight into ways ecstasy or MDMA might be useful in treating people with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
(Photo : Wiki Commons)

Brain scans have revealed how ecstasy produces euphoric feelings in people who use them.

Researchers said the latest findings offer insight into ways ecstasy or MDMA might be useful in treating people with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The latest study involved 25 volunteers who underwent brain scans two different times, once after taking the drug and another time after taking a placebo.

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The findings revealed that ecstasy lowers activity in the limbic system, a group of brain structures involved in emotional responses. Researchers said that these effects dip in limbic system activity was more pronounced in participants who reported stronger subjective experiences.

Ecstasy also reduced communication between he medial temporal lobe and medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in emotional control.

Researchers noted that the brain scans of people who suffer anxiety show the opposite effect after taking ecstasy.

The study found that ecstasy also increased communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus. Previous studies revealed that PTSD patients have a reduction in communication between these two brain areas.

"We found that MDMA caused reduced blood flow in regions of the brain linked to emotion and memory. These effects may be related to the feelings of euphoria that people experience on the drug," researcher Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said in a news release.

"The findings suggest possible clinical uses of MDMA in treating anxiety and PTSD, but we need to be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a study in healthy volunteers. We would have to do studies in patients to see if we find the same effects," lead researcher David Nutt said in a statement.

For the study, participants were asked to recall their favorite and worst memories while inside an fMRI scanner. They perceived their favorite memories as more vivid, emotionally intense and positive after MDMA than placebo, and they perceived their worst memories less negatively.  Researchers said these responses were reflected in the way that parts of the brain were activated more or less strongly under MDMA.

"In healthy volunteers, MDMA seems to lessen the impact of painful memories. This fits with the idea that it could help patients with PTSD revisit their traumatic experiences in psychotherapy without being overwhelmed by negative emotions, but we need to do studies in PTSD patients to see if the drug affects them in the same way," Carhart-Harris added.

The findings are published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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