If you search for MDMA therapy you’ll se studies on MDMA for the treatment of PTSD. If you search for psilocybin, you’ll see the depression studies. But can it work for other conditions as well? Here’s a comment on the theory behind the functions and all the small studies you don’t hear about.
What’s holding the research back?
In the United States, drugs are classified at different levels. Schedule 1 is the top level where substances "that have a high potential for dependence and no accepted medical use" are placed. These classifications were made in a kind of panic around the hippie era and there is no one who can defend this reasoning anymore. Cannabis, MDMA, psilocybin are all in this group. This is especially comical when cannabis is Schedule 1 at the federal level, but can be obtained as a prescription drug in over 35 states. What makes research difficult on these substances is that it is difficult to get financial support in addition to the fact that there is a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy you have to go through to get permission to start. If you want to do research on cannabis, you must have the substance locked in a safe bolted to the floor with two separate doors. In addition, there has been a fear that research would be stopped if undesirable situations should arise. Which is not uncommon when recruiting participants with psychological disorders. These are the reasons why the research has been strategically focused on disorders for which it will be easier to get approval. Now that the first studies have come far, it is easier to get approval for new phases and other studies.
The general functions
In general, psilocybin and MDMA have different basic functions as medicines and therefore work better for various disorders. Psilocybin creates more openness and stimulates neuroplasticity (the ability to think differently), which helps those who struggle with rigid thought patterns. Those who find it difficult to see things differently, feel locked in, hopeless, unable to break out of patterns or habits. Depression is a good example of this, but obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, addiction and a midlife crisis also fall within this spectrum.
MDMA stimulates the uptake of oxytocin, the "love hormone", which allows one to process trauma more effectively and see the world, oneself and one's relationships with compassion. My understanding based on what I’ve learned is that trauma (major or minor) underlies all mental disorders. Children are extremely sensitive and adaptable, and the disorder was the mind's way of adapting to the situation at the time. One can see the indications of this where experienced researchers are looking at MDMA for other things than just PTSD. Note that these are small studies in the early stages, so can not be considered evidence that it works, but it gives an indication of what the experts think it could work for. I have not linked to all the studies here, but you can see the list for all clinical trials for MDMA here and psilocybin here.
The MDMA studies
- Anorexia and bulimia
- Couples therapy where one has PTSD but both receive treatment
- Anxiety due to terminal illness
- Autism and social anxiety
- For healthy volunteers