MDMA Effective in Diverse Patients With PTSD

Pauline Anderson

September 20, 2023


A new study confirms the safety and efficacy of the psychedelic MDMA in ethnically and racially diverse populations with moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the gold standard treatment for PTSD, which affects about 5% of Americans each year. However, many patients have persistent symptoms, and up to 47% don't respond to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) sertraline and paroxetine, which are approved for PTSD by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Mounting evidence suggests 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy (MDMA-AT), which promotes monoamine reuptake inhibition and release, simultaneously inducing prosocial feelings and softening responses to emotionally challenging and fearful stimuli, could be an alternative treatment for PTSD, possibly enhancing the benefits of psychotherapy.

A phase 3 study (MAPP1) showed MDMA-AT was generally well-tolerated and met the primary and secondary endpoints of reduced PTSD symptom severity and decreased functional impairment.

This new confirmatory phase 3 study (MAPP2) included 104 patients with PTSD who were randomized to MDMA-AT or placebo with therapy. Participants were a mean age of about 39 years, 71.2% were assigned female sex at birth, 33.7% identified as non-White, and 26.9% identified as Hispanic/Latino.

The mean Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5) score at baseline was 39.0 and was similar between groups. Overall, 26.9% and 73.1% of patients had moderate or severe PTSD, respectively.


Among the 94 participants who completed the study, the least-squares mean change in CAPS-5 total score at 18 weeks was −23.7 (95% CI, −26.9 to −20.4) for MDMA-AT versus −14.8 (95% CI, −18.3 to −11.3) for placebo with therapy (treatment difference: −8.9; 95% CI, −13.7 to −4.1; P < .001).

MDMA-AT significantly mitigated the secondary outcome of clinician-rated functional impairment, as measured by a reduction in the Sheehan Disability Scale score.

About 86.5% of participants treated with MDMA-AT achieved a clinically meaningful benefit, and 71.2% no longer met criteria for PTSD by study end.

Treatment-emergent adverse events were mostly transient and mild or moderate in severity. Although suicidal ideation was reported in both groups, MDMA did not appear to increase the risk, and there were no reports of problematic MDMA abuse or dependence.


"This confirmatory phase 3 trial showed consistent benefits of MDMA-AT in an ethnoracially diverse group of individuals with long-standing moderate to severe PTSD and numerous comorbidities," write the authors, noting the dropout rate was low and treatment was generally well-tolerated.


The study was conducted by Jennifer M. Mitchell, PhD, Department of Neurology and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and colleagues. It was published online September 14 in Nature Medicine.


The study excluded participants with high suicide risk, comorbid personality disorders, and underlying cardiovascular disease. Effect sizes for MDMA-AT were similar to MAPP1 and, although higher than those observed in SSRI studies, the superiority of MDMA-AT over SSRIs cannot be assumed without a direct comparison.


The study was funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), with support from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, and organized by the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation. Mitchell has reported receiving research support from MAPS; grants/contracts from the Veterans Administration and FDA; royalties/licenses from the University of California, Los Angeles (for a patent licensed to UCSF for cell screening); payment/honoraria from Stanford University and Johns Hopkins. She has been a reviewer for the National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network, a member of the Research Advisory Panel for the California Department of Justice, and a grant reviewer for the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. Disclosures for the other authors are listed with the article.

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