The drug MDMA, better known as party drug Ecstasy, is being examined by researchers as a possible treatment for alcohol addiction. A Phase I clinical trial for MDMA-assisted therapy as a treatment for alcohol use disorder is underway, led by researchers from the Imperial College London. The results have shown that the drug is safe to use as part of therapy, with no physical or psychological problems identified.
For the study, participants participate in eight weekly sessions of psychotherapy at the study site. For two of those sessions, some of the participants were given small doses of MDMA before an eight-hour counseling session, while others received a placebo instead. After those drug-assisted sessions, the volunteers were monitored overnight for any side-effects. They also stayed in contact with the researchers every day via phone for the next week participated in nine months of follow-up after treatment.
So far, 11 volunteers have gotten the treatment and gone through the entire trial. Ben Sessa, an addiction psychiatrist and senior research fellow at Imperial College London, said of the results, “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.”
At that rate, MDMA-assisted therapy would be substantially better than existing treatments. Generally, eight in 10 of alcohol addicts given standard treatment return to drinking within three years. The researchers now plan to see if the rate holds up over time and with more patients.
Supplementing psychotherapy with small doses of MDMA is not a new idea. The idea was explored in the 1970s and 1980s before the U.S. government classified MDMAs a Schedule 1 drug with no accepted medical use in 1985. Researchers and organizations have slowly been able to return the substance to consideration for therapeutic use. There is now a Phase III clinical trial underway in the U.S. for MDMA-assisted therapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.