MDMA could help treat alcoholism by reducing relapse - study

A new study has suggested alcohol addiction could be treated with the help of ecstasy.

Britain's first-ever clinical study using MDMA therapy for people with alcohol use disorder has some promising early results.

In England, eight in every 10 alcoholics relapse within three years of detox treatment. Addiction psychiatrist and trial leader Dr Ben Sessa wants to establish whether giving patients a few doses of MDMA, in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions, could help them with recovery.

Participants, all suffering from alcohol addiction, were given an eight-week course of psychotherapy at a research facility in Bristol. In the third and sixth week, they were also given a powerful dose of MDMA (125mg) with a 62.5mg booster pill two hours later.

After taking the mood-enhancing drug, they spent eight hours with a psychotherapist. Participants mostly spent the session lying down, wearing an eyemask and headphones, and are given the opportunity to "lead the sessions where they want to go" rather than face a line of specific questioning from the clinician. 

They would then spend the night at the facility, and would be telephoned by researchers every day for a week afterwards to provide information about their mood, quality of sleep and any potential risk of suicide. 

MDMA therapy is designed to increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy by reducing patients' inhibitions, allowing them to confront and reflect upon past trauma that is likely to be the root cause of their addiction. 

"MDMA selectively impairs the fear response," Dr Sessna told the Guardian. "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."

He says one of the most significant findings from the trial is that participants reported no "comedown" symptoms. Recreational MDMA users often experience lethargy and low mood in the days after taking the drug, due to serotonin depletion. 

Of the eleven patients to complete the study, just one has relapsed to their previous drinking levels. Five have stayed completely "dry" while another four or five have drunk a small amount since the trial. 

The first stage of the study, designed to show MDMA therapy is safe, is now complete. Dr Sessna and his team intend to conduct further research to back up the findings, including comparing treatment results with a control group given a placebo. 

MDMA was used legally in conjunction with psychotherapy in the US from 1970 until 1985, and until 1993 in Switzerland. Dr Sessna told Filter that to his knowledge, not a single patient given MDMA therapy has gone on to develop an addiction to the drug.


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