It is thought that the entactogen and empathogen effects of MDMA can be harnessed to aid in psychotherapy for fear- and mood-based disorders. Not only can MDMA facilitate trust and acceptance towards others, thereby decreasing fear and defensiveness towards practitioners, but it also increases self-acceptance, which can play an important role in psychotherapy.

Studies investigating the effectiveness of MDMA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have demonstrated excellent results, both in the short- and long-term. The benefits of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy persist years after the first treatment with the drug, giving hope to people with PTSD who do not respond to conventional treatments.

In collaboration with Prof Jonathan Bisson and Drs Ben Sessa and Mat Hoskins at Cardiff University, we are currently preparing a study investigating the neural mechanisms of MDMA-assisted PTSD treatment. This collaboration is one of the first to use advanced brain imaging techniques to study the effects of psychedelics in patients. It builds on important work supporting the potential of psychedelics to enhance psychotherapy, including a recent studies from the Beckley / Imperial Research Programme which found that MDMA enhanced the vividness of favourite memories while reducing the negativity of worst memories in healthy volunteers and our University College London collaboration.

In our clinical trial, we will investigate the effects of MDMA in war veterans and other patients suffering from PTSD. In addition to investigating whether MDMA allows emotionally overwhelming memories to become more tolerable – as might be expected from our earlier research – the study will use fMRI to investigate the effects on brain blood flow. This will be the first study to explore the mechanisms of how MDMA might work as a therapeutic agent using brain imaging.