OPEN Foundation

B. Sessa

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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Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences

Abstract

Objective: Research into psychedelic therapy models has shown promise for the treatment of specific psychiatric conditions. Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin have been correlated with therapeutic benefits and long-term improvements in positive mental outlook and attitudes. This article aims to provide an overview of the topic, highlight strengths and weaknesses in current research, generate novel perspectives and discussion, and consider future avenues for research.

Design: This narrative review was designed to summarise and assess the state of research on psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences and applications for the treatment of specific psychiatric conditions.

Results: Contemporary methods on the quantification of mystical-type experiences and their acute subjective effects are discussed. Recent studies provide some understanding of the pharmacological actions of psychedelics although the neurological similarities and differences between spontaneous and psychedelic mystical-type experiences are not well described. Applicability to modern clinical settings is assessed. Potential novel therapeutic applications include use in positive psychology interventions in healthy individuals.

Conclusions: Since 2006 significant advancements in understanding the therapeutic potential of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy have been made; however, more work is required to understand the neuromechanistic processes and applicability in modern clinical settings. Despite promising results in recent studies, funding issues for clinical trials, legal concerns and socio-cultural resistance provide a counterpoint to experimental evidence.

James, E., Robertshaw, T. L., Hoskins, M., & Sessa, B. (2020). Psilocybin occasioned mystical‐type experiences. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental35(5), e2742; 10.1002/hup.2742
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First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder: preliminary data on the first four participants

Abstract

We present the preliminary data in an ongoing open-label safety and tolerability proof of concept study exploring the potential role for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy in treating patients with alcohol use disorder. At this stage, seven participants have completed the full 8-week MDMA-assisted psychotherapy course, including two therapy sessions each with MDMA. This paper focuses on the safety and tolerability of the therapeutic course for the first four participants to complete treatment. Longer-term outcomes of drinking behaviour will be presented later when the full project data are published. Results show all four participants have successfully tolerated the treatment. There have been no serious adverse events related to MDMA, no unexpected physiological responses to the MDMA sessions or changes to blood results or electrocardiograms, measured before and after the 8-week course. We conclude that the treatment is well- tolerated and are making plans to expand the project into a randomised placebo-controlled study.

Sessa, B., Sakal, C., O’Brien, S., & Nutt, D. (2019). First study of safety and tolerability of 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder: preliminary data on the first four participants. BMJ Case Reports CP12(7), e230109, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bcr-2019-230109
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A Review of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy.

Abstract

This paper provides a brief review of the history, proposed pharmacological mechanisms, safety issues, and clinical applications of the medicine 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Most clinical MDMA research in patients to date has focused on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this review paper other potential therapeutic applications for MDMA therapy are described, including contemporary studies treating anxiety associated with autism and the authors’ ongoing study exploring the potential role for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat alcohol use disorder. MDMA therapy for PTSD is now entering the final Phase 3 stage of drug development, with a target set for licensing by the FDA and EMA in 2021. This means that if clinical efficacy criteria are achieved, MDMA would become a medicine.
Sessa, B., Higbed, L., & Nutt, D. (2019). A Review of 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry10, 138., https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00138
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Why MDMA therapy for alcohol use disorder? And why now?

Abstract

Alcohol use disorder represents a serious clinical, social and personal burden on its sufferers and a significant financial strain on society. Current treatments, both psychological and pharmacological are poor, with high rates of relapse after medical detoxification and dedicated treatment programs. The earliest historical roots of psychedelic drug-assisted psychotherapy in the 1950s were associated with Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)-assisted psychotherapy to treat what was then called, alcoholism. But results were varied and psychedelic therapy with LSD and other ‘classical’ psychedelics fell out of favour in the wake of socio-political pressures and cultural changes. A current revisiting of psychedelic clinical research is now targeting substance use disorders – and particularly alcohol use disorder – again. 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy has never been formally explored as a treatment for any form of substance use disorder. But in recent years MDMA has risen in prominence as an agent to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With its unique receptor profile and a relatively well-tolerated subjective experience of drug effects when used clinically, MDMA Therapy is ideally suited to allow a patient to explore and address painful memories without being overwhelmed by negative affect. Given that alcohol use disorder is so often associated with early traumatic experiences, the author is proposing in a current on-going UK-based study that patients with alcohol use disorder who have undergone a medical detoxification from alcohol might benefit from a course of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

Sessa, B. (2017). Why MDMA therapy for alcohol use disorder? And why now?. Neuropharmacology. 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2017.11.004
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The 21st century psychedelic renaissance: heroic steps forward on the back of an elephant

Abstract

Given the plethora of new studies and published papers in the scientific press and the increasingly emerging presence of articles about positive psychedelic experiences appearing in the popular media, there is little doubt that we are in the midst of a Psychedelic Renaissance. The classical psychedelic drugs LSD and psilocybin and the entactogen MDMA are showing promise as tools to assist psychotherapy for a wide range of mental disorders, with multiple pilot studies demonstrating their safety and efficacy. In this article, the author describes how MDMA in particular has inherent characteristics that make it well suited for assisting trauma-focused psychotherapy in a population of patients who have experienced child abuse. But despite these advances, there remain many obstacles ahead of the widespread mainstream acceptance of psychedelic medicines. The author argues that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is one such obstacle. Other impediments include a prevailing attitude of pseudoscience and rigidity from within the non-scientific psychedelic community itself. Resolution of these conflicts must be sought if medicine and society are to see psychedelics gaining a place in mainstream culture and science.
Sessa, B. (2017). The 21st century psychedelic renaissance: heroic steps forward on the back of an elephant. Psychopharmacology, 1-10. 10.1007/s00213-017-4713-7
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Why Psychiatry Needs 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine: A Child Psychiatrist’s Perspective

Abstract

Since the late 1980s the psychoactive drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has had a well-known history as the recreationally used drug ecstasy. What is less well known by the public is that MDMA started its life as a therapeutic agent and that in recent years an increasing amount of clinical research has been undertaken to revisit the drug’s medical potential. MDMA has unique pharmacological properties that translate well to its proposed agent to assist trauma-focused psychotherapy. Psychological trauma—especially that which arises early in life from child abuse—underpins many chronic adult mental disorders, including addictions. Several studies of recent years have investigated the potential role of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, with ongoing plans to see MDMA therapy licensed and approved within the next 5 years. Issues of safety and controversy frequently surround this research, owing to MDMA’s often negative media-driven bias. However, accurate examination of the relative risks and benefits of clinical MDMA—in contrast to the recreational use of ecstasy—must be considered when assessing its potential benefits and the merits of future research. In this review, the author describes these potential benefits and explores the relatives risks of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the context of his experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, having seen the relative limitations of current pharmacotherapies and psychotherapies for treating complex post-traumatic stress disorder arising from child abuse.

Sessa, B. (2017). Why Psychiatry Needs 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine: A Child Psychiatrist’s Perspective. Neurotherapeutics, 1-9. 10.1007/s13311-017-0531-1
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Can 3,4,-methylenedioxymethamphetamine therapy be used to treat alcohol use disorder?

Treating people with alcohol use disorder has been an important target area for psychedelic research – both in the first studies of the 1950s and during the Psychedelic Renaissance of the last 10 years. To date, most studies have looked at the classical psychedelic drugs as adjuncts to psychotherapy; with attention paid to the psychospiritual aspect of the experience as a central therapeutic process in effecting abstinence from drinking. Psychotherapy assisted with 3,4,-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has never been explored for treating alcohol use disorder. However, MDMA has some unique pharmacological characteristics – particularly its capacity for reducing the fear response and facilitating engagement in therapy around past psychological trauma – that could make it a useful candidate for tackling the core features of alcohol use disorder. This paper briefly describes the burden of alcohol use disorders and the history of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in the field of addictions. It gives the theoretical and experimental justification for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treating people with alcohol use disorder and introduces a forthcoming study from Bristol and London, UK, exploring the role for MDMA in treating a person with this challenging condition.

Sessa, B. (2016). Can 3, 4,-methylenedioxymethamphetamine therapy be used to treat alcohol use disorder?. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, (0), 1-9. 10.1556/2054.01.2016.003
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MDMA and PTSD treatment: “PTSD: From novel pathophysiology to innovative therapeutics”

Abstract

There is a range of therapies to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but treatment resistance remains high, with many sufferers experiencing the chronic condition. Engagement in trauma-focused psychotherapy is difficult for some patients with PTSD, especially those with extreme affect dysregulation associated with recall of traumatic memories. In recent years there have been a number of neuroscientific and clinical studies examining the potential role for adjunctive drug-assisted psychotherapy using 3,4,-methylenedioxmethamphetamine (MDMA) as a treatment for PTSD. re-visiting of a novel approach to trauma-focused psychotherapy with Used just two or three times, under careful medical supervision and specialised psychotherapy support MDMA appears to facilitate the recall of traumatic memories without the user feeling overwhelmed by the negative affect that usually accompanies such memories. This therapeutic approach began in the 1980s and was subsequently shelved in the midst of public health concerns surrounding the recreational use of the drug ecstasy. When pharmaceutical grade MDMA is used in a clinical setting it does not share the same risk profiles as ecstasy. Recent phase one neurophysiological studies and phase two clinical studies are showing promise as a potential new approach to managing treatment-resistant PTSD.

Sessa, B. (2016). MDMA and PTSD Treatment. Neuroscience Letters. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2016.07.004
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Underground MDMA-, LSD- and 2-CB-assisted individual and group psychotherapy in Zurich: Outcomes, implications and commentary

Abstract

Underground psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has persisted in Europe despite the banning of the substances LSD and MDMA in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively. This article describes the work of a Zurich-based psychotherapist providing individual and group psycholytic psychotherapy, whose practice persisted for several years before she was arrested in 2009. The article provides commentary on the psychopharmacological, moral, ethical and legal issues of this case and discusses these issues in the context of the growing medical research of psychedelic substances as mainstream treatments for psychiatry.

Sessa, B., & Fischer, F. M. (2015). Underground MDMA-, LSD-and 2-CB-assisted individual and group psychotherapy in Zurich: Outcomes, implications and commentary. Drug Science, Policy and Law, 2, 1-8. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2050324515578080
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27 March - Analytic Idealism & Live Q&A with Bernardo Kastrup

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