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Oxytocin, PTSD and Ecstasy

I've written a couple of times about the prospects for using the drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

See Ecstasy Drug Could be PTSD Breakthrough and Ecstasy Helps PTSD Treatment. It turns out that MDMA causes the brain to release oxytocin, which, when MDMA is used recreationally, causes that oceanic feeling of blissful connectedness. This same effect could make a person more open to psychotherapy by allowing him or her to connect with the therapist. One of oxytocin's effects is to calm the amygdala, making a person less likely to perceive others as angry or threatening.

Matt Palmquist has an interview with the two scientists looking at this, PØ Johansen and Teri Krebs, on the Miller McCune website.

They told Palmquist,

There is a common misconception that psychotherapy is a really long process of vaguely defined "talking" and that it probably isn't that effective anyway. Actually, exposure therapy (in particular "prolonged exposure therapy," as developed by Dr. Edna Foa at the University of Pennsylvania) is short-term, structured, based on scientific behavioral principles of conditioning and extinction, and validated by many controlled studies. For most patients, exposure therapy has clinically significant effects on anxiety after a few hours, and for PTSD, exposure therapy has demonstrated long-term positive results after 10 to 12 hourlong weekly therapy sessions. If MDMA could facilitate exposure, then it is entirely understandable that MDMA-augmented therapy could have lasting long-term effects on PTSD symptoms, after a few four- to six-hour therapy sessions with MDMA, within a course of short-term therapy.

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