The first study looking into the use of MDMA to treat alcohol addiction has shown safe treatment and early results show encouraging results from the approach, scientists have said.
Doctors in Bristol 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 reported so far no relapses 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 best medical science can work with, 80% of people are drinking within three years of post-alcohol detox."
Eleven people have so far completed the safety and tolerability study, which includes nine months of follow-ups. “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 would not reach the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. , "Sessa said.
Most addiction is based on underlying trauma, often from childhood, explains Sessa. "MDMA selectively impairs fear response," he said. “It allows you to recall painful memories without being overwhelmed.
“MDMA psychotherapy gives you the opportunity to tackle rigidly held personal narratives that are based on early trauma. The perfect drug for trauma-focused psychotherapy. ”
The first phase of the new study was designed to show that therapy is safe. Further research, which compares the results with a randomized control group receiving a placebo instead of MDMA, will need to back up the treatment's effectiveness.
After preliminary screening, including medical and psychological tests, participants are given an eight-week course of psychotherapy. In weeks three and six, they are given a powerful dose of MDMA.
Sessions are conducted in a hospital with a psychiatrist and a psychologist present. Participants are given the drug and then spend eight hours with specialists, mostly lying down, wearing eyeshades and headphones.
“We let you lead the sessions as to where they want to go. What comes up comes up, so not very guided by the clinicians, ”said Sessa.
After 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, this data has shown no evidence of drug withdrawal or comedown symptoms from MDMA.
“There is no black Monday, blue Tuesday, or whatever ravers call it. In my opinion, that is an artefact of raving. Not about MDMA, ”said Sessa, referring to recreational drug users, which is often associated with clubbing.
"If there were a bunch of people going around abusing cancer chemotherapy drugs, you would then think: 'Oh well, it's not safe to take cancer chemotherapy when doctors give it to you,'" said Sessa. “Scientists know they are not dangerous. The Sun newspaper thinks this is dangerous because of the small number of fatalities that occur every year on their front page. ”
MDMA has been used as a legal prescription drug to enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapy in the US from the 1970s to 1985 and in Switzerland until 1993. In recent years, MDMA therapy has been extensively studied as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ).
Speaking at the Breaking Convention in London over a study published earlier this year, Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said: “61% no longer have PTSD – only after two months of follow-up. But more importantly, after one year of follow-up, people still keep getting better. ”
David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London who was also involved in the study, said the research had financial barriers that meant it took two years to complete because of the "profound" legal constraints of working with a schedule 1 drug. . “Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get money for this from government funding. But we have a scientific credibility that will allow charitable funders to support us, ”said Nutt.
In response, a government spokesperson said: "We have a clear licensing regime, backed by legislation that allows legitimate research to take place in a safe environment while ensuring harmful drugs are not misused and do not get into the hands of criminals."