Dr. Ben Sessa – Preliminary Results from MDMA Assisted Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder

In this episode, Kyle and Joe interview Ben Sessa, a Consultant Psychiatrist who is heavily involved in psychedelic research. Ben comes on to talk about preliminary results from the first ever, MDMA assisted therapy for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

3 Key Points:

  1. Ben Sessa plays a role in leading the current MDMA assisted therapy study for alcohol use disorder, and shares preliminary results.
  2. In the current stage, out of the first 12 patients, 2 have turned back to drinking, 5 have stayed completely dry and another 5 who have had a drink or two but have not relapsed back to their typical levels of consumption.
  3. Most people with a long term substance addiction have a history of trauma. MDMA can help people feel safe, in order to work through and heal trauma.

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Show Notes

Preliminary Results

  • They had 13 people in the study, and they took data on 4 people
  • The first caveat in these results is that there was no blinding and no placebo in this study
    • There is no way to tell that it was solely the drug that resulted in the effects
  • In terms of tolerability, everyone preferred it to other treatment, there were no bad reactions to the MDMA, there were no negative reactions, it was a total success in terms of tolerability
  • In the current stage, out of the first 12 patients, 2 have turned back to drinking, 5 have stayed completely dry and another 5 who have had a drink or two but have not relapsed back to their typical levels of consumption
    • They did a similar study previous to this one except without the MDMA and they had 11 patients, 9 of them went back to their full level of consumption
  • They chose alcohol use disorder because it’s so difficult to treat
  • All patients are recruits from local drug and alcohol services
    • Ben picks them up after they have detoxed, after they have been cured of the physical dependence, but when they have yet to be cured of the psychological dependence
  • They receive 2 dosing days within their 8 week therapy (usually weeks 3 and 6)
    • They do 125mg and then half that size dose 2 hours later, which sustains the high
  • Ben mentions that recruitment is difficult, a lot of people have a drinking problem, but they can’t have patients that are depressed, suicidal, pregnant, epileptic, etc.

Future for the Study

  • Up until next March, they are continuing to take in new patients for the study to have more data
  • The next step is to have a randomized control study
  • This current study is sponsored by Imperial College of London
    • It’s not a MAPS sponsored study, it’s the first non MAPS, MDMA study
  • The main papers, with all the data are over a year and a half away from publishing

Addiction and Trauma

  • “MDMA addiction is as rare as a hen with teeth.” – Ben
  • “Most people with a long term substance addiction have a history of trauma.” – Ben
  • Trauma and PTSD is highly treatment resistant
  • There are certain drugs that inhibit fear response, such as alcohol, heroin, etc
    • They make you forget the pain but you can’t work with them and do therapy with them, with MDMA you can
  • MDMA can help people feel safe, in order to work through and heal trauma
  • “We are all the products of our attachment relationships.” – Ben

Breaking Convention

  • This past year was the 5th one
  • There were 1300 attendees from all over the world
  • What’s wonderful about Breaking Convention is how multidisciplinary it is
    • There’s the guy in the gray suit in one room talking about high level neuroscience and a hippie with dreads in the other room talking about the spirits that live in the Salvia leaves
    • Ben says they work really hard to make that balance work
  • There’s a lot of debate and conflict in the psychedelic movement right now,
    • Breaking Convention is very important for creating space for this debate

Looking ahead

  • Ben is looking into opening a clinic
  • He mentions academia is not his area of study, he is a clinician, but this research is an excuse to treat patients

Links

Breaking Convention


About Ben Sessa

Ben Sessa is a consultant psychiatrist in adult addictions, working part-time at Addaction in Weston-Super-Mare and is senior research fellow at Bristol, Cardiff and Imperial College London Universities, where he is currently taking time off clinical medical practice to study towards a PhD in MDMA Psychotherapy. He has specialist training as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and is interested in the developmental trajectory from child maltreatment to adult mental health disorders. Dr Sessa’s joint interests in psychotherapy, pharmacology and trauma have lead him towards researching the subject of drug-assisted psychotherapy using psychedelic adjuncts. He is the author of two books exploring psychedelic medicine; The Psychedelic Renaissance (2012) and To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic (2015) and is currently conducting research with Imperial College London and Cardiff universities studying the potential role for MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of PTSD and alcohol dependence syndrome. Dr Sessa is outspoken on lobbying for change in the current system by which drugs are classified in the UK, believing a more progressive policy of regulation would reduce the harms of recreational drug use. He is a co-founder and director of the UK’s Breaking Convention conference.