Challenges in translational research: MDMA in the laboratory versus therapeutic settings

This commentary (2021) examines the challenges of translating insights about MDMA (and other mind-altering drugs) from the laboratory to the therapeutic setting. The authors identify differences in expectancies, social and physical context, participant characteristics, pharmacological factors, outcome measures, and patient diagnostics, and explore ways to abridge their methodological divide.

Abstract

Despite substantial progress in the use of mind-altering drugs to treat psychiatric disorders, the psychological processes through which these drugs change mood or behavior are poorly understood. Controlled laboratory studies with well-defined psychological constructs are valuable to understand how these drugs manifest their therapeutic benefit. However, there are substantial methodological differences between clinical studies investigating therapeutic outcome and laboratory studies investigating the processes that might underlie the therapeutic effects. Here, we examine some of these differences using the example of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). We review differences in expectancies, social and physical context, participant characteristics, pharmacological factors, and outcome measures in studies with participants who do or do not have psychiatric diagnoses. We describe the challenges and opportunities in translating findings from laboratory studies to the clinic and identify ways to bridge the gap between these approaches.

Authors: Harriet de Wit, Anya K. Bershad & Charles Grob

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