MDMA Research in Switzerland

In 1988, the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health granted special permission to several therapists working in private practice to conduct psychotherapy with MDMA. Permission to work with MDMA lasted until the end of 1993, when all psychedelic therapy in Switzerland was forbidden. Since then, researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zürich have resumed research with MDMA. MAPS recently granted $6,000 to the Zürich research team for a PET scan study of MDMA-naive subjects and $10,000 for the publication of papers on EEG, prepulse inhibition, and Ecstasy users.

On the MAPS website:

Spring 1998 Update on MDMA Research in Switzerland - Alex Gamma
Spring 1996 Update on MDMA Research in Switzerland - Alex Gamma
Autumn 1995 Update on Research with Psychedelics in Switzerland - Franz Vollenweider, Ph.D.
Winter 1994-95 Psycholytic Therapy with MDMA and LSD in Switzerland - Peter Gasser, M.D.
September 1999 A Review of Clinical Issues in MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy - Drs. Juraj and Sonja Styk (A talk given at the Conference on the Clinical Utility of MDMA and MDE - Israel, 1999)
Winter 1992-93 The Political and Psychological Dynamics of Psychedelic Psychotherapy in Switzerland - Dr. Med. Juraj Styk
Autumn 1990 Swiss Psychedelic Usage Halted, Resumption Possible But Not Certain

Investigation of serotonin transporter site density and neurocognitive function after MDMA administered to healthy humans
Investigators: Dr. F. X. Vollenweider
Study using PET imaging and administration of neurocognitive tests to participants given 1.5 to 1.7 mg/kg MDMA prior to drug administration and approximately 1 month after drug administration.


  • Vollenweider FX, Gucker P, Schönbächler R, Kamber E, Vollenweider- Scherpenhuyzen MFI, Schubiger G, Hell D (2000). Effects of MDMA on 5-HT uptake sites using PET and [11C]-McN5652 in humans. Data presented at 2000 conference of the German Society for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neuromedicine [Deutsche Gesellschaft für psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Nervenheilkunde, 2000].
Investigation of putative neurotoxicity of MDMA (Ecstasy) in regular MDMA users by PET and the radioligands McN-5652 and Beta-CPITT
Investigators: Dr. F.X. Vollenweider, Prof. G. Schubiger
Sponsor: Swiss National Fund of Sciences
The aim of this study is to investigate whether regular MDMA users show alterations in 5-HT reuptake site densities indicative of neurotoxic effects after long-term MDMA use. A second aim is to investigate to what extent acute moderate doses of MDMA bind to 5-HT and DA reuptake sites in normal human brain.


  • Zessin J, Gucker P, Ametamey SM, Steinbach J, Brust P, Vollenweider FX, Johannsen, B, Schubiger PA. (1998) Efficient synthesis of enantiomerically pure thioesther precursors of [11C]McN-5652 from racemic McN-5652. J.Label.Comp.and Radiopharm., in press

Long-term effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; "Ecstasy") use on cerebral blood flow (CBF), brain electric activity (EEG), memory, neuropsychological performance and psychological state in regular MDMA users
Investigators: Dr. F.X. Vollenweider, Alex Gamma
Sponsor: Swiss National Fund of Sciences
Aim: to assess possible neurophysiological, psychological and cognitive alterations in chronic MDMA users. Findings: compared to a healthy control group, chronic MDMA users show i) no difference in cerebral blood flow; ii) no difference in attentional performance iii) higher levels of depressiveness iv) increased global EEG beta and temporo-occipital alpha activity. MDMA users had also used significantly more other drugs than the control group.


Investigation into the role of serotonin and dopamine in the modulation of mood, sensorimotor gating and pychomotor drive by MDMA in humans
Investigators: Franz X. Vollenweider, M. E. Liechti
Aim: to evaluate the role of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine systems in mediating the effect of MDMA on mood, psychomotor behavior and sensorimotor gating in humans. This research used the serotonin uptake inhibitor citalopram, the dopamine D2 antagonist haloperidol and the 5HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin to investigate the role played by these two neurotransmitters in producing the subjective and physiological effects of MDMA in humans. Citalopram pretreatment attenuated most of the subjective effects of MDMA and reduced MDMA-induced elevation in systolic blood pressure and heart rate. Ketanserin reduced alterations in perception produced by MDMA, and attenuated MDMA-induced elevation in diastolic blood pressure and body temperature. Haloperidol attenuated MDMA-induced positive mood and positive feelings of derealization and increased MDMA-induced anxiety, but did not affect any of the physiological changes produced by MDMA. Citalopram pretreatment also attenuated facilitated pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) seen after MDMA alone. In an ongoing study, the effects of the serotonergic/noradrenerigc drug pindolol on MDMA are investigated in healthy volunteers.


Experiments completed, fully published

Acute effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; "Ecstasy") on cerebral blood flow (CBF), brain electric activity (EEG), prepulse inhibition (PPI), psychological state and neuropsychological performance in healthy subjects
Investigators: Alex Gamma, Franz Vollenweider, MD
Sponsor: UBS Science Foundation and others
Aim: an integrative characterization of MDMA in terms of its acute neurophysiological, psychological and cognitive effects in healthy, MDMA-naïve human subjects. A single oral dose of MDMA (1.7 mg/kg) was found to produce i) distinct regional CBF and EEG changes in limbic/paralimbic and neocortical areas resembling those of other 5-HT agonists, concomitant with ii) a pronounced enhancement of mood and social communication and little anxiety; iii) an increase in startle response and sensorimotor gating as measured by increased PPI; iv) EEG frequency band changes similar to those found with various 5-HT and noradrenaline agonists, and v) no effects on Stroop performance. Data indicate that MDMA effects in humans are mediated predominantly by the 5-HT system and that MDMA-induced mood and social enhancement may be based on modulation of limbic/paralimbic brain structures.


Mood state and brain electric activity in Ecstasy users
Investigators: Alex Gamma, Edi Frei, Dietrich Lehmann (1), Roberto D. Pascual-Marqui (1), Daniel Hell and Franz X. Vollenweider
Research Unit and (1) The KEY Institute for Brain-Mind Research, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zürich
Sponsors/Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation; Swiss Federal Health Office; Heffter; MAPS.
Differences in mood and electrical brain activity using a new method for the 3D localization of electrically active neural populations, called LORETA (Low Resolution Brain Electromagnetic Tomography). LORETA is a functional imaging method like PET, but based on electrical activity instead of cerebral blood flow or cerebral glucose metabolism.


Other Swiss Research with MDMA

MDMA Pharmacokinetics Study
Investigator: Rudolf Brenneisen, Ph.D.
Bern, Switzerland
Completed and published, just a few subjects.


Page last updated March 13, 2003

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