Breakthrough for trauma treatment: Safety and efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy compared to paroxetine and sertraline

Unsuccessfully treated posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and life-threatening disorder. Two medications, paroxetine hydrochloride and sertraline hydrochloride, are approved treatments for PTSD by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Analyses of pharmacotherapies for PTSD found only small to moderate effects when compared with placebo. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) obtained Breakthrough Therapy Designation (BTD) from the FDA for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD on the basis of pooled analyses showing a large effect size for this treatment. This review covers data supporting BTD. In this treatment, MDMA is administered with psychotherapy in up to three monthly 8-h sessions. Participants are prepared for these sessions beforehand, and process material arising from the sessions in follow-up integrative psychotherapy sessions. Comparing data used for the approval of paroxetine and sertraline and pooled data from Phase 2 studies, MAPS demonstrated that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy constitutes a substantial improvement over available pharmacotherapies in terms of safety and efficacy. Studies of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy had lower dropout rates compared to sertraline and paroxetine trials. As MDMA is only administered under direct observation during a limited number of sessions, there is little chance of diversion, accidental or intentional overdose, or withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. BTD status has expedited the development of MAPS phase 3 trials occurring worldwide, leading up to a planned submission seeking FDA approval in 2021.


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