In an eight-week trial in Bristol, 14 people with alcohol problems received a controlled dose of the party drug, also known as ecstasy, during two psychotherapy sessions.
Psychological support was provided before, during and after each session and the alcohol behavior, mental well-being and activity data were collected for nine months.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, found that participants consumed 18.7 units of alcohol per week in the months following the trial, compared to 130.6 previous units.
The authors of the study, led by Ben Sessa, of Imperial College London, believe that patients with alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) generally have a history of psychological distress and have been addicted to alcohol strong as a form of self-medication.
The Class A drug is thought to regulate an area of the brain called amygdala, which gives patients a better ability to process negative memories.
The researchers concluded: “This study demonstrates that MDMA-assisted psychiatry can be delivered safely, is well tolerated and has the potential to enhance the psychotherapy processes in treatment of patients with AUD.
“MDMA, given in the context of psychotherapy, may reduce the avoidance of anxious thoughts, images or memories of alcohol abuse while increasing empathy for yourself. and others.
“It may also address the symptoms of other illnesses that are often homogenous with harmful substance use, particularly those associated with a history of psychological trauma.”
During the trial, patients who had recently been exposed to alcohol received an eight-week course of treatment-based therapy, including 10 psychotherapy sessions.
On two of these (sessions three and seven), patients with MDMA were labeled open during a six- to eight-hour supported treatment session.
At each dosing session, participants received an initial dose of 125mg of MDMA, followed two hours later by an increased dose of 62.5mg of MDMA.
Participants stayed overnight in the treatment center after each drug-assisted session, led by medically trained “night sitters”.
They were then seen the next morning and telephoned daily for the following six days assessing changes in mood, suicide risk factors and sleep quality.
While the main goal of the study was to see if the treatment was safe and well tolerated, it found that 11 participants drank less than 14 units of alcohol a week for the next nine months.
This included nine who were completely absent, but three participants again drank more than 14 units.
The researchers said the next step was to perform another test that involved randomly dividing participants into two groups, with one MDMA administered and the other a placebo, to gauge what the effectiveness of the treatment.