The first study looking into the use of the psychoactive drug MDMA to treat alcohol addiction has shown the treatment is safe and early results show encouraging outcomes, researchers say.
Doctors in Bristol, England, are testing whether a few doses of the drug, in conjunction with psychotherapy, could help patients overcome alcoholism more effectively than conventional treatments. Those who have completed the study have so far reported almost no relapse and no physical or psychological problems.
In comparison, eight in 10 alcoholics in England relapse within three years after current treatment approaches. Dr. Ben Sessa, an addiction psychiatrist and senior research fellow at Imperial College London, who led the trial, said: “With the very best that medical science can work with, eighty percent of people are drinking within three years post alcohol detox.”
Eleven people have so far completed the safety and tolerability study, which involves nine months of follow-up. “We’ve got one person who has completely relapsed, back to previous drinking levels, we have five people who are completely dry and we have four or five who have had one or two drinks but wouldn’t reach the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder,” Sessa said.
Most addiction is based on underlying trauma, often from childhood, explained Sessa. “MDMA selectively impairs the fear response. It allows recall of painful memories without being overwhelmed. MDMA psychotherapy gives you the opportunity to tackle rigidly held personal narratives that are based on early trauma. It’s the perfect drug for trauma-focused psychotherapy.”
After preliminary screening, including medical and psychological tests, the participants are given an eight-week course of psychotherapy. Sessions are conducted in a hospital with a psychiatrist and a psychologist present. In weeks three and six, participants are given a powerful dose of MDMA, then spend eight hours with the specialists, mostly lying down, wearing eyeshades and headphones. “We let them lead the sessions as to where they want to go. What comes up comes up, so it’s not very guided by the clinicians,” said Sessa.
After the MDMA-assisted sessions, patients stay overnight and are telephoned every day for a week to collect data on sleep quality, mood and potential suicide risk. Significantly, these data have shown no evidence of drug withdrawal or comedown symptoms from the MDMA.
MDMA was used as a legal prescription drug to enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapy in the U.S. from the 1970s to 1985 and in Switzerland up until 1993. MDMA therapy has been studied extensively as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In recent years, MDMA therapy has been studied extensively as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, says: “Sixty-one percent no longer have PTSD – that’s after two months’ follow-up. But more importantly, after one year of follow-up, people still keep getting better.”
Source: Guardian.com, Aug. 19, 2019