The world’s first clinical study into the use of MDMA to treat alcohol addiction has been given the green light.
Imperial College London has been granted ethical approval to use MDMA, the active ingredient in the recreational drug ecstasy, to test whether it can help treat people with alcohol addiction who have failed other treatments. The news was announced at the Breaking Convention conference in London, as reported by the Guardian.
After a detox period, the participants will be given two conventional therapy sessions, followed by another full day of talking therapy under the influence of 99.99 percent pure MDMA. Along with the more general psychological effects of MDMA, a central part of the trial will involve the drug helping the participants to emotionally “open up” to their therapists.
“It’s using drugs to enhance the relationship between the therapist and the patient, and it allows us to dig down and get to the heart of the problems that drive long-term mental illness,” Ben Sessa, a clinical psychiatrist on the trial and senior research fellow at Imperial College London, said at the conference, according to the Guardian.
“We know that MDMA works really well in helping people who have suffered trauma and it helps to build empathy," Sessa added. "Many of my patients who are alcoholics have suffered some sort of trauma in their past and this plays a role in their addiction.”
The idea that "recreational drugs" could have legitimate uses in the treatment of various mental health conditions began as a radical fringe movement, but has been gradually gaining more acceptance among the scientific community.
MDMA is currently listed as a "Class A" drug under UK law, meaning it’s in the bracket of substances regarded as the most dangerous. In the US, it is a "Schedule 1" drug, meaning it has a “high potential for abuse” and has “no currently accepted medical use.”
Despite this legal status, there has been increasing curiosity from the scientific community to explore MDMA's potential benefits in treating mental health conditions. Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave their approval to conduct a complete clinical trial of MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. A previous study, also by Imperial College London, found that magic mushrooms could help treat people with severe depression.
It’s still early days for this pioneering research, but regardless of the outcomes, there's undoubtedly much to learn about the effects of illicit drugs.