OPEN Foundation

S. Harder

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


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.

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Acute effects of LSD on amygdala activity during processing of fearful stimuli in healthy subjects


Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) induces profound changes in various mental domains, including perception, self-awareness and emotions. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the acute effects of LSD on the neural substrate of emotional processing in humans. Using a double-blind, randomised, cross-over study design, placebo or 100μg LSD were orally administered to 20 healthy subjects before the fMRI scan, taking into account the subjective and pharmacological peak effects of LSD. The plasma levels of LSD were determined immediately before and after the scan. The study (including the a priori-defined study end point) was registered at before study start (NCT02308969). The administration of LSD reduced reactivity of the left amygdala and the right medial prefrontal cortex relative to placebo during the presentation of fearful faces (P<0.05, family-wise error). Notably, there was a significant negative correlation between LSD-induced amygdala response to fearful stimuli and the LSD-induced subjective drug effects (P<0.05). These data suggest that acute administration of LSD modulates the engagement of brain regions that mediate emotional processing.

Mueller, F., Lenz, C., Dolder, P. C., Harder, S., Schmid, Y., Lang, U. E., … & Borgwardt, S. (2017). Acute effects of LSD on amygdala activity during processing of fearful stimuli in healthy subjects. Translational Psychiatry, 7(4), e1084. 10.1038/tp.2017.54
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30 April - Q&A with Rick Strassman