Image copyright Zoe Owen-Jones Image caption Despite its reputation, the drug is often misunderstood
Ecstasy (EC) can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to an Australian study.
Researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney surveyed 349 women and 130 men, including at least one sufferer.
The former gave evidence that “their psychosocial issues significantly diminished or disappeared” on EC.
There are around two million people in the UK with PTSD, the symptoms of which can include flashbacks, anxiety and depression.
Use of EC has risen significantly in the UK and wider Europe in recent years. A large rise in EC use was recorded by researchers in 2006.
Emeritus Professor Gayle Cameron, who led the Macquarie University study, told the BBC that EC had shown “great promise”.
“In the study, when people gave evidence to us, they mentioned at least a few things that helped them in managing their emotional disorder,” she said.
“We did some very careful interviews with the people to make sure they were honest. They said things like: ‘I just felt ok at first, but then my psychosocial problems diminished or disappeared’, and ‘EC made me feel less anxiety, made me less bothered about things and allowed me to go out in a better way’.”
Professor Cameron said the nature of psychosocial illness had changed “a lot in recent years”.
She cited numerous recent examples including cancer patients, people with disabilities, and people who had experienced a violent incident.
“It used to be that people with mental illness didn’t talk about their illness, but people who suffer from a painful personality disorder with a terrible emotional reality still want to talk about it,” she said.
“And what they were telling us is that EC helped them with things like reducing anxiety levels, giving them more courage and it enabled them to get a job.”
Painkiller use increased
The study, titled Effects of MDMA on Anxiety and Depression for Panic Disorders: A Prospective Ecstasy Cohort Study, was published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
It has been funded by the NSW Government and the drug industry – according to the researchers, the intention was to highlight potential uses for MDMA in “wound-healing, auto-immune and [in] post-traumatic stress disorder”.
But Professor Cameron said the drug did not have “substantial therapeutic value” and people should be offered other ways to treat the debilitating conditions.
In light of the rise in EC use, a survey released earlier this month by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society UK found that the drug was increasingly being used as a painkiller.
The authors of the survey – released to coincide with World Mental Health Day – said that users of the drug were “nearly twice as likely to take tablets to ease pain when compared to those who had no MDMA use”.
EC tablets are recreationally available online, but the manufacturer of the brand named MDMA has stopped sale of the drug in Europe because of its negative image.
Lester Scott, a health and psycho-social psychologist at the University of Leeds, said it was “absolute rubbish” to suggest that the drug was making people more healthy.
Image copyright United States Drug Enforcement Agency Image caption Australian authorities are opposed to the consumption of MDMA
He said many of the effects of MDMA were experienced at low doses and it was not meant to “burn off” pain or else it would “look like a hangover”.
Dr Scott added that a long term survey would be required to show whether EC had a positive effect on the anxiety and depression seen in some people.
A spokesperson for the “drug advisory” body responsible for drug advice to the UK government said MDMA was “not a suitable substance for medical purposes”.
“We agree that the supposed bene-fits from this drug are not clinically proven and any benefits seem to come very quickly,” he said.
He also said the harm the drug may do to many mental health disorders was not well understood.
“There is concern that recreational drugs – MDMA being a good example – are re-tracing a long-standing history of risk-taking and alcohol-fueled mania,” he said.
“While MDMA has been used for decades for recreational purposes, on a clinical scale the drug has not been used for a medical purpose in the UK for over a decade.”