A study on MDMA treatment for new mothers, which launched in the spring, is being led by Dr. Larry Leeman, the medical director of the University of New Mexico’s Milagro Program.
Leeman “treats expectant mothers experiencing opioid use disorder,” and “was dismayed to see that many of his patients eventually resumed opioid use due untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” according to a press release from the university on the study.
“Now, Leeman and his colleagues are launching a first-of-its-kind pilot study to see whether a regimen of trauma-focused therapy coupled with doses of MDMA – popularly known to rave participants as ecstasy or molly – can help new mothers permanently overcome their drug dependency,” the press release said.
In an interview this week with local news station KOB, Leeman explained that New Mexico is “one of the epicenters of the opioid epidemic.”
A study from the New Mexico Department of Health in 2019 found that nearly two-thirds of those living in the state know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids. According to the agency, New Mexico was the “first state to approve naloxone for use by laypeople and has statewide standing orders for law enforcement to carry and pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription.”
“We know that our communities often have collective intergenerational trauma here and most of the research that’s happening in psychedelic assisted therapy has happened in John Hopkins, it happens in Yale, it happens in different places. This is the first study and its happening here in New Mexico,” Leeman told the station.
The study, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, “will enroll 15 people with diagnoses of moderate to severe PTSD six to 12 months after they have given birth,” the university said.
Participants in the study “will receive 12 weeks of intensive therapy and three medication sessions.”
“The project, funded through private donations, will assess whether MDMA-assisted therapy can help the mothers overcome their addictions and improve bonding with their infants,” the university explained earlier this year. “Leeman’s team is collaborating with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which is supplying the MDMA used in the pilot. He noted that when the MDMA is purchased on the street it is often dangerously adulterated with other drugs, such as methamphetamine.”
In his interview this week with KOB, Leeman explained that MDMA is a “psychedelic type of drug that is different from classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin in that it really focuses on opening people up to be able to process their trauma.”
“Our hope for using MDMA assisted therapy is to treat that trauma, decrease the likelihood of using opioids again and kind of help set up the mother and the baby and the family for a life that really what everybody who’s using opioids wants, which is not to be using and to be able to be there and be fully present for their babies,” Leeman told the station.
The press release announcing the study earlier this year noted that “MDMA has complex effects, including some that are similar to classic psychedelics, such as psilocybin, which tamps down the brain’s default mode network and may interrupt trauma-driven rumination,” and that “MDMA temporarily increases production of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes a sense of connectedness.”
“Addiction has been described as the opposite of ‘connection,’” Leeman said at the time. “Another proposed mechanism of psychedelic-assisted therapies for addiction is that they increase participants’ connections with self, including emotions, values and life meaning, connection to others – family and community – and connection to the world and universe, which includes connection with nature and the feeling that everything is interconnected.”
“What the MDMA-assisted therapy does is take away their fear for a short period of time,” Leeman added. “During that time, they have the ability to process the trauma that has led to their PTSD and which have never been able to process. It’s a bit of a redo in helping people heal in ways that may improve their ability to bond with their baby.”
Academic research into psychedelic therapies continues to blossom, with local and state governments across the country also increasingly signaling an openness to what was once taboo.
A recent study led by researchers from NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine in New York found that MDMA could be an effective treatment for various mental health conditions, and that it could also yield benefits when used in concert with other psychedelics.
Relative to psilocybin/LSD alone, co-use of psilocybin/LSD with a self-reported low (but not medium–high) dose of MDMA was associated with significantly less intense total challenging experiences, grief, and fear, as well as increased self-compassion, love, and gratitude,” the researchers wrote.