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Efficacy of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Abstract

Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common psychiatric condition that can develop following a traumatic experience. PTSD is associated with significant disability, a large economic burden, and despite the range of therapies to treat PTSD, response to antidepressants is limited. A growing body of clinical research suggests the efficacy of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy in individuals with treatment-refractory PTSD.

Aim: To assess the effectiveness and safety of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for reducing symptoms of PTSD, a systematic review and meta-analysis was undertaken.

Methods: Six online databases were searched from inception to December 2018. Reference lists of relevant articles were manually searched as well as electronic sources of ongoing trials and conference proceedings. Researchers active in the subject were also contacted. Eligible studies included randomized and quasi-randomized clinical trials using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in comparison with other medications, placebo or no medication (supportive care). We used standard methodological procedures expected by the Cochrane Collaboration. Two authors assessed studies for inclusion and extracted data. Using random-effects meta-analysis with Cochrane’s Review Manager 5.3, we obtained standardized mean differences [SMD] and rate ratios [RR] for reduction in PTSD symptomatology.

Results: A total of 5 trials met inclusion criteria, totaling 106 participants (average age: 35-40 years, 70% female). Studies were rated as moderate in quality. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy demonstrated a high rate of clinical response (RR = 3.47, 95% CI: 1.70, 7.06), remission (RR = 2.63, 95% CI: 1.37, 5.02), with a large effect size at reducing the symptoms of PTSD (SMD = 1.30, 95% CI: 0.66, 1.94). Available evidence indicates that MDMA was well-tolerated, with few serious adverse events reported across studies.

Conclusions: MDMA-assisted psychotherapy appears to be a potentially safe, effective, and durable treatment for individuals with chronic, treatment-refractory PTSD. However, future studies involving larger samples and longer durations of treatment and follow-up are warranted-and underway.

Bahji, A., Forsyth, A., Groll, D., & Hawken, E. R. (2020). Efficacy of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry, 96, 109735. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2019.109735

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Olivier Taymans

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