Party drug link to tinnitus 'cure'

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014

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An illegal party drug could hold the answer tinnitus sufferers have long been waiting to hear.

This week, an international conference devotes three days of expert discussion to tinnitus research, a condition which causes a constant and long-term ringing within the ear drum.

Researchers from Auckland hope the conference could be the springboard to the first approved trials of tinnitus treatment using the drug MDMA, one component used to make the illegal street drug ecstasy. University of Auckland senior lecturer Grant Searchfield said there were enough reports from those with tinnitus who had taken ecstasy for him to be interested in what the effects could be. "There is no good research yet and that's something that we are hoping to do very soon."

Searchfield hoped trials, which would be the first of their kind, could begin by May. "Often people with tinnitus will say that ‘I do this' or ‘I do that' and it makes my tinnitus better or worse but because we have heard the same story from a number of people, we are beginning to see a pattern and we need to work out what that is."

He said if medicinal MDMA was to be imported, it would have to be done under very strict controls. "Tinnitus for a very long time has been a bit of a mystery, it's really only recently that we have begun to understand more about what causes it and what we can do to reduce it."

Searchfield said about seven per cent of the total population suffered from the condition. The number doubled for those over 65.

University of Auckland post-doctoral fellow Daniel Spiegel said that on looking at what MDMA did to the brain and also looking at how tinnitus worked, it made sense that there could be a connection. "The initial idea came from some anecdotal evidence from a research clinic where some participants were quite frank and said that after taking ecstasy their tinnitus went away."

He said tinnitus could be quite a "disabling condition".

Howick resident Jon Merritt, 63, has had tinnitus for close to 30 years and said it was now part of his life.

"When you are in a quiet or a relaxing situation, it becomes very annoying. Mine is a very high pitched bell or buzzer. It's got worse, it's annoying . . . I find it difficult to concentrate and listen to more than one person in a group."

Merritt said he would be open to any drug which could help his condition as long as it was sanctioned by his doctor.

Founder of the US-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Rick Doblin will speak on the use of MDMA at the conference.

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"In our study of veterans, some of them have tinnitus and report that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy had the unexpected benefit of reducing tinnitus to some extent. Perhaps people with tinnitus under the influence of MDMA can relate differently to their tinnitus so it recedes to some extent into the background."

He said there had never been a study of MDMA and tinnitus but he hoped the conference would generate enough interest for that. "I believe that it can help. Why is a mystery."

- Sunday Star Times

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