MDMA Treatment Trials For Alcoholism Get Underway

By Kelly Burch 05/02/18

Researchers will use MDMA in an attempt to treat the underlying trauma that many with severe alcoholism have experienced. 

female doctor displaying a handful of tablets and pills in her palm

Nearly 10 months after it was announced, a study that will test MDMA, a psychoactive drug most well-known as the party drug Molly, as a treatment for severe alcoholism is now underway.

Researchers from Imperial College London are spearheading the study, which will give people with alcoholism doses of the drug, according to MixMag.

Participants in the study all have severe alcoholism, drinking the equivalent of five bottles of wine in an average day, according to information released last year. They have all tried more traditional treatments unsuccessfully. 

When the trial was announced last July, it was expected to begin within two months. However, it did not start until 10 months later. The reason for the delay was not clear, although senior researcher Dr. Ben Sessa said that numerous problems arose in setting up the study. 

“The idea of taking MDMA just twice and then not having to be on SSRIs for the rest of your life is not in the interest of the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. “They’re not going to put money into a drug like MDMA, which then cures the patient and gets them off all their drugs.”

When the study was announced, Sessa, a clinical psychiatrist, explained that researchers believe that MDMA could treat alcoholism by treating the underlying trauma that many with severe alcoholism have experienced. 

“We know that MDMA works really well in helping people who have suffered trauma and it helps to build empathy,” he said. “Many of my patients who are alcoholics have suffered some sort of trauma in their past and this plays a role in their addiction.” 

Sessa told The Guardian last year that MDMA could represent a better alternative for treating alcoholism. 

“After 100 years of modern psychiatry our treatments are really poor,” he said. “The chances of relapse for these patients are really high—90% at three years. No one has ever given MDMA to treat alcoholism before.”

Drugs like MDMA and LSD have fallen out of favor after widespread experimentation with them decades ago. However, doctors and others are now examining the benefits of using lower doses of these drugs to treat a variety of mental health issues.

In April, for example, a study was published showing that administering a dose of ketamine can rapidly reduce suicidal ideations in patients who are at immediate risk of suicide. 

Some professionals hope that MDMA will be approved for assisting in therapy in the next few years. 

"We're on track for MDMA to be approved by the FDA by 2021,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). “We are in a pretty good place for reaching this goal." 

Studies are underway evaluating MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, in addition to the alcoholism study mentioned above. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.