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MDMA, Brazil, Omega-3

MDMA treatment for alcoholism could reduce relapse, a story in the Guardian is reporting.  While it is encouraging to see major media coverage for psychedelics research, the title is a bit misleading.

That is because it implies that using MDMA, also known as ecstasy, can treat alcoholism, whereas it is actually MDMA-assisted psychotherapy that is being used to treat alcoholism. The idea, as far as I understand, is that many addictions have a psychological cause – substance abuse is often a way to self-medicate, a.k.a. to relieve emotional pain or blockages. Taking 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) breaks down those blocks, which opens the door for a productive therapy session to deal with the underlying issues.

Another problem with the title – the story is based on a paper detailing preliminary data in an ongoing open-label safety and tolerability proof of concept study[1]. The study also doesn’t cover whether MDMA assisted psychotherapy is effective – just whether it is safe and tolerable.

This study also doesn’t cover whether MDMA assisted psychotherapy is effective – just whether it is safe and tolerable. All the same, it is definitely worth paying attention to, since this type of research is so hard to get funding for and to set up, due to the current schedule 1 status of the drug. Especially when the full results are published, it should be an important contribution towards making this type of therapy more accessible.

Brazilian Wax

In Brazil, the country’s main science-funding agency is running low on cash, and if it does not receive additional funds from the government, will be forced to suspend over 80,000 scholarships for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers beginning in September, according to Nature[2]. The upcoming cancellations were announced by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) on 15 August.

In April of this year, president Jair Bolsonaro said that the budget of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication would be cut in half and that scholarship programs for the CNPq, the primary scientific research agency in Brazil, would be cut as well.

That is bad news not only for Brazil, but the rest of the world as well, since Brazil is conducting research into the effects of Amazon rain forest deforestation.

Fish Oil

Prescription omega-3 fatty acid medication reduces triglyceride levels by 20-30% among the majority of people who require treatment for high triglyceride levels, according to a science advisory from the American Heart Association[3].

But, this is just an advisory, it is not a clinical trial or meta-analysis. Previous studies have failed to consistently demonstrate any cardiovascular benefit for fish oil. The REDUCE-IT trial[4] was actually one of the only major clinical trials of fish oil to actually show cardiovascular benefit, as defined as the composite endpoint of cardiovascular death, nonfatal myocardial infarction, or nonfatal stroke.


[1] Sessa B, Sakal C, O’Brien S, et al First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder: preliminary data on the first four participants BMJ Case Reports CP 2019;12:e230109 https://casereports.bmj.com/content/12/7/e230109

[2] Rodrigo de Oliveira Andrade, Brazil’s budget cuts threaten more than 80,000 science scholarships, Nature, Aug 19, 2019 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02484-w

[3] Ann C. Skulas-Ray et al, Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Management of Hypertriglyceridemia: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association, Circulation (2019). DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000709

[4] Deepak L. Bhatt, M.D., et al. Cardiovascular Risk Reduction with Icosapent Ethyl for Hypertriglyceridemia. N Engl J Med 2019; 380:11-22 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1812792
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1812792 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1812792