Intentionally-diverse MDMA research at University of Connecticut Cut Short

By Russell Hausfeld|November 7, 2018

The research team at UConn studying MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is now defunct.

Illustration by Russell Hausfeld

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The research team at the University of Connecticut (UConn) studying MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is now defunct.

The research was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and consisted of an FDA-reviewed Phase 2 study, moving up to Phase 3 randomized clinical trials.

MAPS’ Executive Director Rick Doblin said that the studies were ended as a result of “many delays in the course of the study, complications from working with UConn, as well as a number of changes in key personnel.” These key personnel changes include the departure of two DEA Schedule 1 license holders who left the project — one moved and one resigned in the last few weeks, Doblin said.  

Monnica Williams, the Principal Investigator of this research, claimed that her intentionally diverse staff on this study was meant to bring new voices to the table in the very-white field of psychedelic research.

MAPS — whose Phase 2 MDMA trials consisted of over 100 participants, “very few” of whom were people of color — also cited the UConn team as a way to combat issues of diversity with their research.

Williams believes the lack of racial diversity in MDMA trials is directly correlated to the fact that most of the researchers are white. Often times, studies pull from convenient places, she said, such as people who researchers know, or people they are involved with. That biases the types of people who have access to or know about studies in the first place. From there, participants in studies tell their friends to get involved, and you end up only getting people from within the same bubbles.

Now that research has been ended at UConn, Williams will explore opportunities for Expanded Access independently through her private practice. Expanded Access is a program where patients with treatment-resistant illnesses can seek treatment from drugs not yet approved by the FDA, at their own expense.

“On the one hand, it will be easier to recruit for Expanded Access since everybody receives MDMA, because there is no control group. On the other hand, it will be harder to recruit for Expanded Access since people need to pay for their own treatment, rather than MAPS paying [for it] as in Phase 3,” Doblin said. “But perhaps we can find some grants to cover therapy for some people of color in Expanded Access.”

According to Doblin, MAPS will continue working with Williams on training therapists of color. MAPS hopes to be able to fund this training through grants, as well.

A diverse group of researchers and research subjects is crucial for medical studies, according to Williams, because it is important to be able to show the FDA that this treatment is generalizable to all groups.

Correction: November 7, 2018: An earlier version of this article stated that MAPS’ Phase 2 MDMA trials included no people of color. Rick Doblin had previously stated, “In our Phase 2 studies, we have 107 people and not a single African American,” at the Sleeping Octopus Assembly on Psychedelics. MAPS has now stated that their “Phase 2 MDMA trials consisted of over 100 participants, very few of whom were people of color.”

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Russell Hausfeld

Russell Hausfeld

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Russell Hausfeld is Senior Writer for Psymposia and an investigative journalist and illustrator living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Religious Studies from the University of Cincinnati.