Despite months of talk therapy, the nightmares continued, and Bledsoe grew desperate. Then "something almost miraculous" happened, he says. An online search brought him to a unique study of the banned drug MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), well known as the street drug ecstasy. The 21-patient study, sponsored by the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), launched in 2004 as the first U.S. clinical trial of a psychedelic drug in 35 years.
After several bond-building sessions with psychiatrist and study leader Michael Mithoefer and a co-therapist, Bledsoe swallowed a white tablet, donned eyeshades and reclined in Mithoefer's comfortable Charleston, S.C., office. Over the next eight hours, Bledsoe revisited the explosion and recounted the trauma to Mithoefer. After two more MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions, Bledsoe says his PTSD symptoms were "completely eliminated."
This weekend at a MAPS-sponsored meeting here, Mithoefer reported similar results for nearly all of the trial's participants. After two or three MDMA sessions, patients who received MDMA experienced huge drops in symptoms as measured by a standard PTSD scale. At baseline, study patients had an average Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) score of 79, but after MDMA-assisted therapy, CAPS scores dropped to 23.4 in the 13-person MDMA group, whereas an eight-person placebo group averaged a score of 60. (Later, seven of eight placebo patients chose to receive MDMA as well.)