- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
or PTSD, is a mental illness
that affects around 8 million Americans a year.
The most common treatments include a combination
of therapy and medication, but recent clinical trials,
mainly in the US, Canada, and Israel,
have turned up a surprisingly effective alternative,
the synthetic drug MDMA,
commonly found in the party drugs ecstasy and molly.
How does a recreational drug
known for its psychedelic effects
help PTSD patients?
And what exactly is Israel's role
in this groundbreaking new treatment?
PTSD affects people who have experienced or witnessed
a life-threatening event,
like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident,
or a sexual assault.
The symptoms vary and may include flashbacks,
nightmares and severe anxiety,
as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
For years, the most common treatments were antidepressants,
talk therapy, meditation, and exercise.
But in the last decade,
MDMA-focused treatment has popped up,
with clinical trials largely funded by a California-based
nonprofit called, MAPS
the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
In 2016, Israel's Health Ministry
approved the use of the drug on patients
in regulated therapeutic settings,
despite the fact that it was still illegal on the streets.
The research has been led by Dr. Keren Tzarfati,
a cognitive-based therapy researcher for MAPS in Israel.
She has conducted clinical trials in a pilot program
held in hospitals around the country,
including in Haifa, Be'er Sheva, and Lev Hasharon.
Keren came to MDMA-assisted therapy
through her work with psychedelics.
As Keren puts it.
- One of Karen's early trials in 2016
was encouraging, a year after the MDMA treatment,
a whopping 68% of patients
were no longer experiencing PTSD related symptoms.
Although scientists don't have a complete grasp
on how exactly MDMA affects the brain,
the psychoactive drug is known
to cut down activity in the amygdala,
the brain's fear center.
This lets patients examine their trauma
with fewer potential panic-triggers.
- A typical MDMA-assisted treatment
looks like this.
Two specially-trained therapists
oversee the whole 12 week course of therapy.
During this course, there are two to three daylong sessions
where the patients take a dose of MDMA
and delve into their trauma
under the guidance of the therapists.
The patients lie in a bed, with the therapists beside them,
talking about their experiences
and occasionally listening to music through headphones.
According to Dr. Danny Brom, a psychologist who founded
the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma
at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem,
the treatment also makes use of, somatic experiencing,
in which the patients focus on specific bodily areas
where the pain is centered
and visualize and confront the intangible pain
as a real thing.
Over 10% of Israel's population suffer from PTSD,
a figure that's three times higher
than in the United States.
Studies have shown that PTSD rates are much higher
in places where armed conflict is the norm.
Israel, with its mandatory army service,
constant threats from its neighbors,
and a high number of wars
and security-related tragedies in the 71 years
it's been around,
is a breeding ground for this kind of trauma.
Israeli research into MDMA
showcases the country's ingenious
and creative problem solving abilities,
but also highlights the fascinating out-of-the-box work
being done in PTSD research and treatment
in Israel and elsewhere around the globe today.
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