OPEN Foundation

M. Mithoefer

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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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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Discontinuation of medications classified as reuptake inhibitors affects treatment response of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy

Abstract

Rationale: MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is under investigation as a novel treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The primary mechanism of action of MDMA involves the same reuptake transporters targeted by antidepressant medications commonly prescribed for PTSD.

Objectives: Data were pooled from four phase 2 trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. To explore the effect of tapering antidepressant medications, participants who had been randomized to receive active doses of MDMA (75-125 mg) were divided into two groups (taper group (n = 16) or non-taper group (n = 34)).

Methods: Between-group comparisons were made for PTSD and depression symptom severity at the baseline and the primary endpoint, and for peak vital signs across two MDMA sessions.

Results: Demographics, baseline PTSD, and depression severity were similar between the taper and non-taper groups. At the primary endpoint, the non-taper group (mean = 45.7, SD = 27.17) had a significantly (p = 0.009) lower CAPS-IV total scores compared to the taper group (mean = 70.3, SD = 33.60). More participants in the non-taper group (63.6%) no longer met PTSD criteria at the primary endpoint than those in the taper group (25.0%). The non-taper group (mean = 12.7, SD = 10.17) had lower depression symptom severity scores (p = 0.010) compared to the taper group (mean = 22.6, SD = 16.69). There were significant differences between groups in peak systolic blood pressure (p = 0.043) and diastolic blood pressure (p = 0.032).

Conclusions: Recent exposure to antidepressant drugs that target reuptake transporters may reduce treatment response to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Mithoefer, M. C., & Holland, J. (2021). Discontinuation of medications classified as reuptake inhibitors affects treatment response of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Psychopharmacology, 238(2), 581–588. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05710-w

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The potential use of N-methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDMA) assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of eating disorders comorbid with PTSD

Abstract

Despite advances in the field, eating disorders (EDs) remain very challenging disorders to treat, especially when comorbid with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). N-methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment refractory PTSD shows great promise, with two-thirds of participants achieving full remission at 1 year or more at follow-up. PTSD is a common comorbidity associated with EDs, and patients with EDs and PTSD (ED-PTSD) are reported to have higher severities of illness, greater comorbidities, higher treatment dropouts, and poorer outcomes. We hypothesize that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will be efficacious in the ED-PTSD population for both ED and PTSD symptoms. The rationales for and proposed mechanisms of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for ED-PTSD are considered from neurobiological, psychological and social perspectives. MDMA is associated with unique psychopharmacological effects, including: 1) reduced fear, 2) enhanced wellbeing, 3) increased sociability/extroversion, 4) reduced self-criticism, 5) increased compassion for self/others, 6) increased interpersonal trust, and 7) alert state of consciousness. These anxiolytic and prosocial effects may counteract avoidance and hyperarousal in the context of psychotherapy for those with ED-PTSD. Other clinical features of EDs that may be amenable to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy include body image distortion, cognitive rigidity, and socio-emotional processing difficulties. To illustrate its potential, personal accounts of individuals with ED-PTSD symptoms reporting benefit from MDMA adjunctive to psychotherapy are described. In addition, the possible risks and challenges in conducting this work are addressed, and future implications of this proposal are discussed.

Brewerton, T. D., Lafrance, A., & Mithoefer, M. C. (2021). The potential use of N-methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDMA) assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of eating disorders comorbid with PTSD. Medical hypotheses, 146, 110367. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2020.110367

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3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for victims of sexual abuse with severe post-traumatic stress disorder: an open label pilot study in Brazil

Abstract

Objective: To conduct Brazil’s first clinical trial employing 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), given its high prevalence resulting from epidemic violence.

Methods: Of 60 volunteers, four matched the inclusion & exclusion criteria. Three patients with PTSD secondary to sexual abuse (diagnosed by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV and the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale for DSMV-4 [CAPS 4]) completed enrollment and treatment, following a standardized Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies protocol consisting of 15 weekly therapy sessions: three with orally administered MDMA with concurrent psychotherapy and music, spaced approximately 1 month apart. CAPS-4 scores two months after the final MDMA session were the primary outcome.

Results: No serious adverse events occurred. The most frequent adverse events were somatic pains and anguish. CAPS-4 reductions were always greater than 25 points. The final scores were 61, 27, and 8, down from baseline scores of 90, 78, and 72, respectively. All reductions were greater than 30%, which is indicative of clinically significant improvement. Secondary outcomes included lower Beck Depressive Inventory scores and higher Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory and Global Assessment of Functioning scores.

Conclusions: Considering the current limitations in safe and efficacious treatments for PTSD and recent studies abroad with larger patient samples, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could become a viable treatment in Brazil.

Jardim, A. V., Jardim, D. V., Chaves, B. R., Steglich, M., Ot’alora G, M., Mithoefer, M. C., … & Doblin, R. (2020). 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for victims of sexual abuse with severe post-traumatic stress disorder: an open label pilot study in Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, (AHEAD); 10.1590/1516-4446-2020-0980
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Long-term follow-up outcomes of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: a longitudinal pooled analysis of six phase 2 trials

Abstract

Rationale: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic condition that has wide-ranging negative effects on an individual’s health and interpersonal relationships. Treatments with long-term benefits are needed to promote the safety and well-being of those suffering from PTSD.

Objectives: To examine long-term change in PTSD symptoms and additional benefits/harms after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD.

Methods: Participants received two to three active doses of MDMA (75-125 mg) during blinded or open-label psychotherapy sessions with additional non-drug therapy sessions. PTSD symptoms were assessed using the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM IV (CAPS-IV) at baseline, 1 to 2 months after the last active MDMA session (treatment exit), and at least 12 months post final MDMA session (LTFU). A mixed-effect repeated-measures (MMRM) analysis assessed changes in CAPS-IV total severity scores. The number of participants who met PTSD diagnostic criteria was summarized at each time point. Participants completed a long-term follow-up questionnaire.

Results: There was a significant reduction in CAPS-IV total severity scores from baseline to treatment exit (LS mean (SE) = – 44.8 (2.82), p < .0001), with a Cohen’s d effect size of 1.58 (95% CI = 1.24, 1.91). CAPS-IV scores continued to decrease from treatment exit to LTFU (LS mean (SE) = – 5.2 (2.29), p < .05), with a Cohen’s d effect size of 0.23 (95% CI = 0.04, 0.43). The number of participants who no longer met PTSD criteria increased from treatment exit (56.0%) to LTFU (67.0%). The majority of participants reported benefits, including improved relationships and well-being, and a minority reported harms from study participation.

Conclusions: PTSD symptoms were reduced 1 to 2 months after MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, and symptom improvement continued at least 12 months post-treatment. Phase 3 trials are investigating this novel treatment approach in a larger sample of participants with chronic PTSD.

Jerome, L., Feduccia, A. A., Wang, J. B., Hamilton, S., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., Mithoefer, M. C., & Doblin, R. (2020). Long-term follow-up outcomes of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: a longitudinal pooled analysis of six phase 2 trials. Psychopharmacology, 237(8), 2485–2497. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05548-2

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MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: study design and rationale for phase 3 trials based on pooled analysis of six phase 2 randomized controlled trials.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Posttraumatic stress disorder is a prevalent mental health condition with substantial impact on daily functioning that lacks sufficient treatment options. Here we evaluate six phase 2 trials in a pooled analysis to determine the study design for phase 3 trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD.
METHODS:
Six randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trials at five study sites were conducted from April 2004 to February 2017. Active doses of MDMA (75-125 mg, n = 72) or placebo/control doses (0-40 mg, n = 31) were administered to individuals with PTSD during manualized psychotherapy sessions in two or three 8-h sessions spaced a month apart. Three non-drug 90-min therapy sessions preceded the first MDMA exposure, and three to four followed each experimental session.
RESULTS:
After two blinded experimental sessions, the active group had significantly greater reductions in CAPS-IV total scores from baseline than the control group [MMRM estimated mean difference (SE) between groups - 22.0 (5.17), P < 0.001]. The between-group Cohen’s d effect size was 0.8, indicating a large treatment effect. After two experimental sessions, more participants in the active group (54.2%) did not meet CAPS-IV PTSD diagnostic criteria than the control group (22.6%). Depression symptom improvement on the BDI-II was greatest for the active group compared to the control group, although only trended towards significant group differences [MMRM, estimated mean difference (SE) between groups - 6.0 (3.03), P = 0.053]. All doses of MDMA were well tolerated, with some expected reactions occurring at greater frequency for the active MDMA group during experimental sessions and the 7 days following.
CONCLUSIONS:
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was efficacious and well tolerated in a large sample of adults with PTSD. These studies supported expansion into phase 3 trials and led to FDA granting Breakthrough Therapy designation for this promising treatment.
Mithoefer, M. C., Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Mithoefer, A., Wagner, M., Walsh, Z., … & Doblin, R. (2019). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: study design and rationale for phase 3 trials based on pooled analysis of six phase 2 randomized controlled trials. Psychopharmacology, 1-11., https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-019-05249-5
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Combining Cognitive-Behavioral Conjoint Therapy for PTSD with 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): A Case Example.

Abstract

Treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have evolved significantly in the past 35 years. From what was historically viewed as a pervasive, intractable condition have emerged multiple evidence-based intervention options. These treatments, predominantly cognitive behavioral in orientation, provide significant symptom improvement in 50-60% of recipients. The treatment of PTSD with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy using a supportive, non-directive approach has yielded promising results. It is unknown, however, how different therapeutic modalities could impact or improve outcomes. Therefore, to capitalize on the strengths of both approaches, Cognitive Behavioral Conjoint Therapy for PTSD (CBCT) was combined with MDMA in a small pilot trial. The current article provides a case study of one couple involved in the trial, chosen to provide a demographically representative example of the study participants and a case with a severe trauma history, to offer a detailed account of the methodology and choices made to integrate CBCT and MDMA, as well as an account of their experience through the treatment and their treatment gains. This article offers a description of the combination of CBCT for PTSD and MDMA, and demonstrates that it can produce reductions in PTSD symptoms and improvements in relationship satisfaction.
Wagner, A. C., Mithoefer, M. C., Mithoefer, A. T., & Monson, C. M. (2019). Combining cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD with 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): A case example. Journal of psychoactive drugs51(2), 166-173., https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1589028
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3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamineassisted psychotherapy for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized phase 2 controlled trial

Posttraumatic stress disorder often does not resolve after conventional psychotherapies or pharmacotherapies. Pilot studies have reported that 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) combined with psychotherapy reduces posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.

This pilot dose response trial assessed efficacy and safety of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy across multiple therapy teams.

Twenty-eight people with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder were randomized in a double-blind dose response comparison of two active doses (100 and 125 mg) with a low dose (40 mg) of MDMA administered during eight-hour psychotherapy sessions. Change in the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale total scores one month after two sessions of MDMA served as the primary outcome. Active dose groups had one additional open-label session; the low dose group crossed over for three open-label active dose sessions. A 12-month follow-up assessment occurred after the final MDMA session.

In the intent-to-treat set, the active groups had the largest reduction in Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale total scores at the primary endpoint, with mean (standard deviation) changes of −26.3 (29.5) for 125 mg, −24.4 (24.2) for 100 mg, and −11.5 (21.2) for 40 mg, though statistical significance was reached only in the per protocol set (p=0.03). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms remained lower than baseline at 12-month follow-up (p<0.001) with 76% (n=25) not meeting posttraumatic stress disorder criteria. There were no drug-related serious adverse events, and the treatment was well-tolerated.

Our findings support previous investigations of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as an innovative, efficacious treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder.
Ot’alora G, M., Grigsby, J., Poulter, B., Van Derveer III, J. W., Giron, S. G., Jerome, L., … & Mithoefer, M. C. (2018). 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized phase 2 controlled trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology32(12), 1295-1307, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269881118806297
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3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans, firefighters, and police officers: a randomised, double-blind, dose-response, phase 2 clinical trial.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is prevalent in military personnel and first responders, many of whom do not respond to currently available treatments. This study aimed to assess the efficacy and safety of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for treating chronic PTSD in this population.
METHODS:
We did a randomised, double-blind, dose-response, phase 2 trial at an outpatient psychiatric clinic in the USA. We included service personnel who were 18 years or older, with chronic PTSD duration of 6 months or more, and who had a Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS-IV) total score of 50 or greater. Using a web-based randomisation system, we randomly assigned participants (1:1:2) to three different dose groups of MDMA plus psychotherapy: 30 mg (active control), 75 mg, or 125 mg. We masked investigators, independent outcome raters, and participants until after the primary endpoint. MDMA was administered orally in two 8-h sessions with concomitant manualised psychotherapy. The primary outcome was mean change in CAPS-IV total score from baseline to 1 month after the second experimental session. Participants in the 30 mg and 75 mg groups subsequently underwent three 100-125 mg MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions in an open-label crossover, and all participants were assessed 12 months after the last MDMA session. Safety was monitored through adverse events, spontaneously reported expected reactions, vital signs, and suicidal ideation and behaviour. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01211405.
FINDINGS:
Between Nov 10, 2010, and Jan 29, 2015, 26 veterans and first responders met eligibility criteria and were randomly assigned to receive 30 mg (n=7), 75 mg (n=7), or 125 mg (n=12) of MDMA plus psychotherapy. At the primary endpoint, the 75 mg and 125 mg groups had significantly greater decreases in PTSD symptom severity (mean change CAPS-IV total scores of -58·3 [SD 9·8] and -44·3 [28·7]; p=0·001) than the 30 mg group (-11·4 [12·7]). Compared with the 30 mg group, Cohen’s d effect sizes were large: 2·8 (95% CI 1·19-4·39) for the 75 mg group and 1·1 (0·04-2·08) for the 125 mg group. In the open-label crossover with full-dose MDMA (100-125 mg), PTSD symptom severity significantly decreased in the group that had previously received 30 mg (p=0·01), whereas no further significant decreases were observed in the group that previously achieved a large response after 75 mg doses in the blinded segment (p=0·81). PTSD symptoms were significantly reduced at the 12-month follow-up compared with baseline after all groups had full-dose MDMA (mean CAPS-IV total score of 38·8 [SD 28·1] vs 87·1 [16·1]; p<0·0001). 85 adverse events were reported by 20 participants. Of these adverse events, four (5%) were serious: three were deemed unrelated and one possibly related to study drug treatment.
INTERPRETATION:
Active doses (75 mg and 125 mg) of MDMA with adjunctive psychotherapy in a controlled setting were effective and well tolerated in reducing PTSD symptoms in veterans and first responders.
FUNDING:
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Mithoefer, M. C., Mithoefer, A. T., Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Wagner, M., Wymer, J., … & Doblin, R. (2018). 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans, firefighters, and police officers: a randomised, double-blind, dose-response, phase 2 clinical trial. The Lancet Psychiatry5(6), 486-497, 10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30135-4
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30 April - Q&A with Rick Strassman

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