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Why Psychiatry Needs 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine: A Child Psychiatrist’s Perspective

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Since the late 1980s the psychoactive drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has had a well-known history as the recreationally used drug ecstasy. What is less well known by the public is that MDMA started its life as a therapeutic agent and that in recent years an increasing amount of clinical research has been undertaken to revisit the drug’s medical potential. MDMA has unique pharmacological properties that translate well to its proposed agent to assist trauma-focused psychotherapy. Psychological trauma—especially that which arises early in life from child abuse—underpins many chronic adult mental disorders, including addictions. Several studies of recent years have investigated the potential role of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, with ongoing plans to see MDMA therapy licensed and approved within the next 5 years. Issues of safety and controversy frequently surround this research, owing to MDMA’s often negative media-driven bias. However, accurate examination of the relative risks and benefits of clinical MDMA—in contrast to the recreational use of ecstasy—must be considered when assessing its potential benefits and the merits of future research. In this review, the author describes these potential benefits and explores the relatives risks of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the context of his experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, having seen the relative limitations of current pharmacotherapies and psychotherapies for treating complex post-traumatic stress disorder arising from child abuse.

Sessa, B. (2017). Why Psychiatry Needs 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine: A Child Psychiatrist’s Perspective. Neurotherapeutics, 1-9. 10.1007/s13311-017-0531-1
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