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MDMA

The Netherlands should be ‘at forefront’ of psychedelic research, says Dutch government

‘The Netherlands can play a pioneering role in developing the right frameworks, limiting potential risks, and designing training programs,’ the Dutch health minister said.

Author: Stephan Tap

Ernst Kuipers, the new Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare, and Sports, has given his green light to more research in psychedelic therapy, citing “promising results” for typically difficult-to-treat mental illnesses through psychedelics-assisted therapy. His endorsement came in response to questions from three members of parliament from the Dutch political party D66. Kuipers summed up his stance on psychedelic research in a letter directed to the Speaker of the Dutch House of Representatives, and its content is factual and amenable to recent scientific results.

This is a departure for the Dutch government, which in recent years produced more prohibition-focused or avoidant language when it came to issues surrounding psychedelics. The new government has also announced that a state committee will look into the medical use of MDMA – a political compromise arising from the ongoing discussion in the Netherlands about the possible legalisation of MDMA for recreational use.

The new government’s health minister demonstrated conviction about the prominence psychedelic therapy will gain in global healthcare in the coming years, and envisions how the Netherlands could become a leader at the forefront of psychedelic research: “It is paramount that these and other potentially innovative treatments are safely accessible to the target population,” the minister writes. “The Netherlands is one of the leading countries in research into psychedelics in mental health care. In addition, the Netherlands can play a pioneering role in developing the right frameworks, limiting potential risks, and designing training programs for therapists. I am in favour of sharing earned knowledge with parties in the field across different countries.”

The Netherlands at the forefront of psychedelic research

Apart from MDMA, other psychedelic substances – such as psilocybin1 and ketamine2 – have also demonstrated promise. Kuipers strikes a more cautious tone when speaking about these compounds, affirming the need for more research due to the preliminary nature of current results: “Most of these substances are still in the investigative phase of research. […] It is up to the relevant field parties to follow up on these results. This concerns conducting the necessary research, completing the step-by-step registration process for approval of the substance, and the development of guidelines and protocols necessary for treatment.”

Kuipers further stresses the need for extensive education, the training of psychedelic therapists, and the need to better understand individuals engaged in self-experimentation. He adds that he is “willing to play a facilitating and advising role” in implementing psychedelic research and that his ministry has recently conducted exploratory meetings with researchers and mental healthcare institutions.

He envisions the Netherlands as playing a major role internationally in the coordination and promulgation of psychedelic research, writing that “[t]he Netherlands can stimulate cooperation in a European and international context. In addition, the Netherlands can draw attention to removing barriers in conducting research. In the framework of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, I continue to advocate for the removal of barriers to therapeutic use and research into substances on United Nations drug convention lists.

New Research

According to Kuipers, an estimated 1.2 million Dutch citizens currently seek curative mental healthcare each year. Another 215,000 citizens suffer from severe psychiatric illness, a segment of the patient population that is very difficult to treat with current therapies. Kuipers has announced he will allocate 35 million euros to mental healthcare research over the next four years, made available through the Dutch grant organisation ZonMw. Grants will support multidisciplinary studies focused primarily on clinical applied research.

The availability of these funds presents psychedelic researchers with a rare opportunity. Results from these new studies could further elucidate the therapeutic mechanisms by which psychedelics function, thereby putting their clinical application on firmer scientific footing.  Ultimately, Kuiper’s initiative offers the promise of advancing the field beyond its “investigative phase” and imagines a not-too-distant future in which psychedelics are used as legitimate therapeutic agents in clinical contexts, offering hope to the millions who suffer from severe psychiatric illness around the globe.

Barriers to breakthrough therapy status

The three representatives of D66 asked further questions surrounding the current “breakthrough therapy status” of certain psychedelics in the United States. A breakthrough therapy designation is granted to a drug that treats a serious or life-threatening condition, where preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug might demonstrate substantial improvement on clinically significant endpoints over available therapies.

Recently, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted ‘breakthrough therapy status’ to psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and to MDMA for PTSD. Kuipers explains that a similar status within the Netherlands and other countries in Europe can be attained through organisations such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The minister acknowledges the barriers that still exist for psychedelic research, like “a lack of financial resources for doing the necessary clinical research and developing an approved product for the patient. In addition, psychedelics are substances that are generally non patentable and thus do not fit the ordinary development and revenue model. The potential high costs for the therapeutic treatment with these substances (due to the large amount of hours therapists dedicate to patients during treatment) might also impede incorporating psychedelics as a standard treatment.” 

The issue of the relative expense of psychedelic therapy bears further scrutiny. How, for instance, would the cost of psychedelic therapy compare to that of treatment as usual (TUA) if we take into account factors such as the economic burden of different psychiatric illnesses and/or disability-adjusted life years (i.e,. the number of years lost due to an illness)? To resolve the issue of financial expenditure, cost-effectiveness analyses of psychedelic therapy should be conducted, such as that performed in 20203. This study found that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy versus TUA per 1,000 patients produced savings of up to $103.2 million over 30 years including costs, and surmised that “third-party payers are likely to save money within three years by covering this form of therapy [MDMA].” This, however, is just the conclusion of one study, and the issue of financing deserves further investigation.

Central management and the Netherlands

Kuipers acknowledges the risks involved in the lack of central management of psychedelics. Possible risks include personal experimental use of psychedelics and the development of  commercially exploitative practices that fail to the interests of patients first. Kuipers emphasises the urgency with which these questions need to be answered, and references the Dutch researchers and clinicians who authored Therapeutic use of psychedelics4: “[…] they can develop a framework for this new form of treatment by means of high quality guidelines, standards, and protocols.”

Finally, the new government of the Netherlands has called for more research into MDMA and the possible legalisation of it in the near future. Kuipers mentions that there will be a state committee specifically for MDMA. The state committee will “investigate the status of MDMA in the context of public health and provide advice surrounding the pros and cons of medicinal use by adhering to a multidisciplinary analysis, which takes into account potential risks for health, prevention, and the European context and its relevant treaties.” Kuipers expects to inform the House of Representatives of the committee’s findings in the second quarter of this year.

References:

1. Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., … & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 78(5), 481-489.

2. Nieuwsuur (2022). Keta kan ‘revolutionair’ middel zijn tegen depressie, maar er zijn ook zorgen.  Consulted on 27 March 2022.

3. Marseille, E., Kahn, J. G., Yazar-Klosinski, B., & Doblin, R. (2020). The cost-effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. PloS one, 15(10), e0239997.

4. Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen. Manifest therapeutische gebruik van psychedelica. Retreived March 20, 2022.

Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca

PSYCHEDELIC MEDICINE: THE HEALING POWERS OF LSD, MDMA, PSILOCYBIN, AND AYAHUASCA. Dr. Richard Louis Miller. Park Street Press. ISBN: 978-1620556979

Clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Louis Miller discusses what is happening today in psychedelic medicine. Dr. Miller and his contributors explore the ongoing efforts to restore psychedelic therapies to the health field. They also discuss the newly shifting political climate and the push for new research, offering hope for an end to the War on Drugs and a potential renaissance of research into psychedelic medicines around the world.

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Prediction of MDMA response in healthy humans: a pooled analysis of placebo-controlled studies

Abstract

Background: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) is used both recreationally and therapeutically. Little is known about the factors influencing inter- and intra-individual differences in the acute response to MDMA. Effects of other psychoactive substances have been shown to be critically influenced by personality traits and mood state before intake.

Methods: We pooled data from 10 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over studies performed in the same laboratory in 194 healthy subjects receiving doses of 75 or 125mg of MDMA. We investigated the influence of drug dose, body weight, sex, age, drug pre-experience, genetics, personality and mental state before drug intake on the acute physiological and psychological response to MDMA.

Results: In univariable analyses, the MDMA plasma concentration was the strongest predictor for most outcome variables. When adjusting for dose per body weight, we found that (a) a higher activity of the enzyme CYP2D6 predicted lower MDMA plasma concentration, (b) a higher score in the personality trait “openness to experience” predicted more perceived “closeness”, a stronger decrease in “general inactivation”, and higher scores in the 5D-ASC (5 Dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire) scales “oceanic boundlessness” and “visionary restructuralization”, and (c) subjects with high “neuroticism” or trait anxiety were more likely to have unpleasant and/or anxious reactions.

Conclusions: Although MDMA plasma concentration was the strongest predictor, several personality traits and mood state variables additionally explained variance in the response to MDMA. The results confirm that both pharmacological and non-pharmacological variables influence the response to MDMA. These findings may be relevant for the therapeutic use of MDMA.

Studerus, E., Vizeli, P., Harder, S., Ley, L., & Liechti, M. E. (2021). Prediction of MDMA response in healthy humans: a pooled analysis of placebo-controlled studies. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(5), 556–565. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881121998322

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First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder

Abstract

Background: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) therapy has qualities that make it potentially well suited for patients with addictions, but this has never been explored in a research study. We present data from the Bristol Imperial MDMA in Alcoholism (BIMA) study. This is the first MDMA addiction study, an open-label safety and tolerability proof-of-concept study investigating the potential role for MDMA therapy in treating patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Aims: This study aimed to assess if MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be delivered safely and can be tolerated by patients with AUD post detoxification. Outcomes regarding drinking behaviour, quality of life and psychosocial functioning were evaluated.

Methods: Fourteen patients with AUD completed a community alcohol detoxification and received an eight-week course of recovery-based therapy. Participants received two sessions with MDMA (187.5 mg each session). Psychological support was provided before, during and after each session. Safety and tolerability were assessed alongside psychological and physiological outcome measures. Alcohol use behaviour, mental well-being and functioning data were collected for nine months after alcohol detoxification.

Results: MDMA treatment was well tolerated by all participants. No unexpected adverse events were observed. Psychosocial functioning improved across the cohort. Regarding alcohol use, at nine months post detox, the average units of alcohol consumption by participants was 18.7 units per week compared to 130.6 units per week before the detox. This compares favourably to a previous observational study (the ‘Outcomes’ study) by the same team with a similar population of people with AUD.

Conclusions: This study provides preliminary support for the safety and tolerability of a novel intervention for AUD post detox. Further trials to examine better the therapeutic potential of this approach are now indicated.

Sessa, B., Higbed, L., O’Brien, S., Durant, C., Sakal, C., Titheradge, D., Williams, T. M., Rose-Morris, A., Brew-Girard, E., Burrows, S., Wiseman, C., Wilson, S., Rickard, J., & Nutt, D. J. (2021). First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 375–383. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881121991792

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Pharmacological-assisted Psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Abstract

Background: Pharmacological-assisted psychotherapies, using conventional and novel drug agents, are increasingly being used both in clinical and experimental research settings, respectively. Objective: To determine the efficacy of conventional and novel pharmacological-assisted psychotherapies in reducing PTSD symptom severity. Method: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials were undertaken; 21 studies were included. Results: MDMA-assisted therapy was found to statistically superior to active and inactive placebo-assisted therapy in reduction of PTSD symptoms (standardised mean difference -1.09, 95% CI -1.60 to -0.58). There was no evidence of superiority over placebo for any other intervention. Conclusions: MDMA-assisted therapy demonstrated an impressive effect size; however, it is difficult to have confidence at this stage in this intervention due to the small numbers of participants included, and more research in this area is needed. There was no evidence to support the efficacy of any other drug-assisted interventions.

Hoskins, M. D., Sinnerton, R., Nakamura, A., Underwood, J., Slater, A., Lewis, C., Roberts, N. P., Bisson, J. I., Lee, M., & Clarke, L. (2021). Pharmacological-assisted Psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1), 1853379. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1853379

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A Systematic Review of the MDMA Model to Address Social Impairment in Autism

Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by repetitive behaviours, cognitive rigidity/inflexibility, and social-affective impairment. Unfortunately, no gold-standard treatments exist to alleviate the core socio-behavioural impairments of ASD. Meanwhile, the prosocial empathogen/entactogen 3,4-methylene-dioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) is known to enhance sociability and empathy in both humans and animal models of psychological disorders.

Objective: We review the evidence obtained from behavioural tests across the current literature, showing how MDMA can induce prosocial effects in animals and humans, where controlled experiments were able to be performed.

Methods: Six electronic databases were consulted. The search strategy was tailored to each database. Only English-language papers were reviewed. Behaviours not screened in this review may have affected the core ASD behaviours studied. Molecular analogues of MDMA have not been investigated.

Results: We find that the social impairments may potentially be alleviated by postnatal administration of MDMA producing prosocial behaviours in mostly the animal model.

Conclusion: MDMA and/or MDMA-like molecules appear to be an effective pharmacological treatment for the social impairments of autism, at least in animal models. Notably, clinical trials based on MDMA use are now in progress. Nevertheless, larger and more extended clinical studies are warranted to prove the assumption that MDMA and MDMA-like molecules have a role in the management of the social impairments of autism.

Chaliha, D., Mamo, J. C., Albrecht, M., Lam, V., Takechi, R., & Vaccarezza, M. (2021). A Systematic Review of the MDMA Model to Address Social Impairment in Autism. Current neuropharmacology, 19(7), 1101–1154. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X19666210101130258

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A comparison of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to non-assisted psychotherapy in treatment-resistant PTSD: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Abstract

Rationale: Novel, evidence-based treatments are required for treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has beneficially augmented psychotherapy in several small clinical trials.

Objective: To review the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in treatment-resistant PTSD.

Methods: Systematic searches of four databases were conducted from inception to February 2020. A meta-analysis was performed on trials which were double-blinded, randomised, and compared MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to psychotherapy and placebo. The primary outcomes were the differences in Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS-IV) score and Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI). Secondary outcome measures included neurocognitive and physical adverse effects, at the time, and within 7 days of intervention.

Results: Four randomised controlled trials (RCTs) met inclusion criteria. When compared to active placebo, intervention groups taking 75 mg (MD -46.90; 95% (confidence intervals) CI -58.78, -35.02), 125 mg (MD -20.98; 95% CI -34.35, -7.61) but not 100 mg (MD -12.90; 95% CI -36.09, 10.29) of MDMA with psychotherapy, had significant decreases in CAPS-IV scores, as did the inactive placebo arm (MD -33.20; 95% CI -40.53, -25.87). A significant decrease in BDI when compared to active placebo (MD -10.80; 95% CI -20.39, -1.21) was only observed at 75 mg. Compared to placebo, participants reported significantly more episodes of low mood, nausea and jaw-clenching during sessions and lack of appetite after 7 days.

Conclusion: These results demonstrate potential therapeutic benefit with minimal physical and neurocognitive risk for the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in TR-PTSD, despite little effect on Beck’s Depression Inventory. Better powered RCTs are required to investigate further.

Illingworth, B. J., Lewis, D. J., Lambarth, A. T., Stocking, K., Duffy, J. M., Jelen, L. A., & Rucker, J. J. (2021). A comparison of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to non-assisted psychotherapy in treatment-resistant PTSD: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(5), 501–511. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120965915

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MDMA-facilitated cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: an uncontrolled trial

Abstract

Cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy (CBCT) for PTSD has been shown to improve PTSD, relationship adjustment, and the health and well-being of partners. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has been used to facilitate an individual therapy for PTSD. This study was an initial test of the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of MDMA-facilitated CBCT. Six couples with varying levels of baseline relationship satisfaction in which one partner was diagnosed with PTSD participated in a condensed version of the 15-session CBCT protocol delivered over 7 weeks. There were two sessions in which both members of the couple were administered MDMA. All couples completed the treatment protocol, and there were no serious adverse events in either partner. There were significant improvements in clinician-assessed, patient-rated, and partner-rated PTSD symptoms (pre- to post-treatment/follow-up effect sizes ranged from d = 1.85-3.59), as well as patient depression, sleep, emotion regulation, and trauma-related beliefs. In addition, there were significant improvements in patient and partner-rated relationship adjustment and happiness (d =.64-2.79). These results are contextualized in relation to prior results from individual MDMA-facilitated psychotherapy and CBCT for PTSD alone. MDMA holds promise as a facilitator of CBCT to achieve more robust and broad effects on individual and relational functioning in those with PTSD and their partners.

Monson, C. M., Wagner, A. C., Mithoefer, A. T., Liebman, R. E., Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., Doblin, R., & Mithoefer, M. C. (2020). MDMA-facilitated cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: an uncontrolled trial. European journal of psychotraumatology, 11(1), 1840123. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1840123

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Hallucinogens in Mental Health: Preclinical and Clinical Studies on LSD, Psilocybin, MDMA, and Ketamine

Abstract

A revamped interest in the study of hallucinogens has recently emerged, especially with regard to their potential application in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. In the last decade, a plethora of preclinical and clinical studies have confirmed the efficacy of ketamine in the treatment of depression. More recently, emerging evidence has pointed out the potential therapeutic properties of psilocybin and LSD, as well as their ability to modulate functional brain connectivity. Moreover, MDMA, a compound belonging to the family of entactogens, has been demonstrated to be useful to treat post-traumatic stress disorders. In this review, the pharmacology of hallucinogenic compounds is summarized by underscoring the differences between psychedelic and nonpsychedelic hallucinogens as well as entactogens, and their behavioral effects in both animals and humans are described. Together, these data substantiate the potentials of these compounds in treating mental diseases.

De Gregorio, D., Aguilar-Valles, A., Preller, K. H., Heifets, B. D., Hibicke, M., Mitchell, J., & Gobbi, G. (2021). Hallucinogens in Mental Health: Preclinical and Clinical Studies on LSD, Psilocybin, MDMA, and Ketamine. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 41(5), 891–900. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1659-20.2020

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MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of anxiety and other psychological distress related to life-threatening illnesses: a randomized pilot study

Abstract

The success of modern medicine creates a growing population of those suffering from life-threatening illnesses (LTI) who often experience anxiety, depression, and existential distress. We present a novel approach; investigating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of anxiety in people with an LTI. Participants with anxiety from an LTI were randomized in a double-blind study to receive MDMA (125 mg, n = 13) or placebo (n = 5) in combination with two 8-h psychotherapy sessions. The primary outcome was change in State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) Trait scores from baseline to one month post the second experimental session. After unblinding, participants in the MDMA group had one open-label MDMA session and placebo participants crossed over to receive three open-label MDMA sessions. Additional follow-up assessments occurred six and twelve months after a participant’s last experimental session. At the primary endpoint, the MDMA group had a greater mean (SD) reduction in STAI-Trait scores, – 23.5 (13.2), indicating less anxiety, compared to placebo group, – 8.8 (14.7); results did not reach a significant group difference (p = .056). Hedges’ g between-group effect size was 1.03 (95% CI: – 5.25, 7.31). Overall, MDMA was well-tolerated in this sample. These preliminary findings can inform development of larger clinical trials to further examine MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a novel approach to treat individuals with LTI-related anxiety.Trial Registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT02427568, first registered April 28, 2015.

Wolfson, P. E., Andries, J., Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Wang, J. B., Williams, E., Carlin, S. C., Sola, E., Hamilton, S., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., Mithoefer, M. C., & Doblin, R. (2020). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of anxiety and other psychological distress related to life-threatening illnesses: a randomized pilot study. Scientific reports, 10(1), 20442. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75706-1

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