Is MDMA the Key to Treat PTSD?

Johns Hopkins neuroscientists have found that the psychedelic drug MDMA reopens a kind of window, called a “critical period,” when the brain is sensitive to learning the reward value of social behaviors.

The findings, reported in the journal Nature, may explain why MDMA is being touted as helpful in treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For the current study, neuroscientist Gül Dölen says, “We wanted to know if there was a critical period for learning social reward behaviors, and if so could we reopen it using MDMA, since this drug is well-known to have prosocial effects.”

Below founder of Recovering Man Richard Joy explains his journey through PTSD to recovery.

Dölen and her team studied groups of mice in enclosures with different bedding.

They put several mice together in one enclosure with one type of bedding for 24 hours and, in the next 24 hours, put the same mice by themselves in another enclosure with a different type of bedding.

The mice began to associate certain types of bedding with isolation or companionship.

Then, they let the mice wander between enclosures with the two types of bedding and tracked how long the mice spent in each enclosure.

The more time the mice spent in the bedding linked to their companions indicated more social reward learning.

“It’s why people gather around the water cooler,” says Dölen, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Read: 3 Steps to Process PTSD

In their experiments, Dölen and her colleagues found that the critical period for social reward learning in mice is around puberty and wanes once they become mature adults.

To determine if they could reopen the critical period, the scientists gave MDMA to mature mice, waited 48 hours for the drug to be washed out of their system, and observed how the mice explored their enclosure and behaved with other mice in the enclosure.

Following the treatment with MDMA, most of the animals responded to social interactions the same way as juveniles, by forming a positive association between social interactions and the bedding.

This effect lasted for at least two weeks after the MDMA treatment, and it was not observed in mice given saline injections.

“This suggests that we’ve reopened a critical period in mice, giving them the ability to learn social reward behaviors at a time when they are less inclined to engage in these behaviors,” says Dölen.

Dölen and her postdoctoral student and first author of the current study, Romain Nardou, also observed that MDMA works to reopen the critical period only if the drug is given to mice when they are with other mice, not if it is given to mice while they are alone.

This suggests that reopening the critical period using MDMA may depend on whether the animals are in a social setting, say the scientists.

MDMA has been designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a “breakthrough therapy” for PTSD, meaning that the agency will fast-track the development and review of clinical trials to test it.

However, the researchers caution that MDMA may not work for every psychiatric condition linked to social behaviors.

Read more: Enhanced Treatment for PTSD Developed

1 thought on “Is MDMA the Key to Treat PTSD?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: