Could MDMA treat addiction? North Somerset clients take part in clinical trial

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 June 2018

The team of doctors behind the clinical trial - Laurie Higbed, Tim Williams, Chloe Sakal, Ben Sessa, Steve Obrien, professor David Nutt and Michael Mithoefer.

The team of doctors behind the clinical trial - Laurie Higbed, Tim Williams, Chloe Sakal, Ben Sessa, Steve Obrien, professor David Nutt and Michael Mithoefer.


Clients from Addaction North Somerset are taking part in a ‘world first’ clinical trial to investigate whether MDMA could be used to treat alcohol addiction.

The study will follow a group of clients from North Somerset who have volunteered to take part in eight therapy sessions.

In two of the sessions, the clients will be given MDMA under medical supervision.

The object of the trial is to reduce fear and encourage the participants to talk openly about past trauma – which is often a major factor in addiction.

Up to 20 clients will take part in the first phase of the study.

The trial is led by a team based at the University of Bristol’s Clinical Research and Imaging Centre.

Principal investigator Dr Ben Sessa works as a consultant psychiatrist in Addaction’s North Somerset addiction service and in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMS).

He said: “Psychological trauma can lead to lasting problems like addiction and self-harm. Current treatments for trauma are fairly limited and we need to be brave in our exploration of new approaches.”

Dr Sessa said many people struggle to stay in treatment once they begin talking about their trauma.

He added: “We see it a lot in services like Addaction. It’s often too painful. Some people drop out, others might use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate in response to painful memories.

“MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is still tough and distressing, but it gives the patient an extra layer of armour.

“It helps them talk about their pain, reflect on the root cause, and begin the healing process.

“It’s inevitable that if you hurt a five-year-old you will have a 30-year-old with problems. Alcohol often ends up as a big part of the picture.

“This trial could be the first step in a new approach to addiction. It may give us an important tool in the treatment of trauma and we’re grateful to Addaction for being part of it.”

The trial is the UK’s first clinical MDMA study and the world’s first MDMA addiction trial.

Addaction’s medical director Paul Hughes said: “As a treatment provider we need to be prepared to try new treatments, based on the best scientific evidence. Fundamentally we’re interested in what works for the people who need our help. We’re proud to be involved in this fascinating trial.”

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