Neurobiological and psychological mechanisms behind MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD
Various treatment approaches to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) currently exist, including psychotherapeutic, pharmacological, and combined treatments, however all show limited effectiveness. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine)–assisted psychotherapy is an unconventional treatment method combining non-directive psychotherapy with several experimental sessions during which MDMA is administered in a safe therapeutic setting. Despite the impressive clinical response to this newly revived therapy, little is known about the mechanisms behind its effectiveness. The current paper discusses findings from PTSD and MDMA research, along with results from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy clinical trials. Moreover, these are then combined in order to propose a tentative model of several neurobiological and psychological mechanisms which may underlie the success of the therapy in PTSD patients. The proposed mechanisms refer to effects on certain brain areas and networks involved in fear and emotional processing, the regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and increase in serotonin levels. In addition, we discuss the influence on memory reconsolidation, the effects of dissociation and empathy, and the importance of a strong therapeutic alliance.
Hristina has always been fascinated by the human mind and its workings, which led her to pursue an education in the fields of psychology and neurosciences. Psychedelic substances have become one of her biggest scientific interests in the past years, due to their potential to both reveal and help treat the mind. Recently, she had the opportunity to focus her master’s thesis on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD and more specifically on the potential mechanisms underlying it.