You are currently viewing Australian Federal Government Funds Trial of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for Individuals Affected by Northern River Floods

Australian Federal Government Funds Trial of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for Individuals Affected by Northern River Floods

  • Post category:News

In a groundbreaking new study, researchers at Southern Cross University (SCU) in Australia will trial the use of MDMA-assisted therapy (MDMA-AT) in groups of patients suffering from natural disaster-related PTSD.

The team, led by SCU Professor James Bennett-Levy, has received more than AUD $3.8 million (~US$2.5m) from the Australian government to support individuals affected by the devastating Northern Rivers floods of 2022.

The new study, relying on a mix of arts- and nature-based therapies alongside an MDMA-based intervention, will be one of the first mental health studies to focus on recovery from disaster-related PTSD.

Unprecedented Rainfall

Back in 2022, owing to prolonged rainfall and waterlogged soils, the region in the east of the country was hit with record-breaking floods that inundated homes and displaced much of the community. “You could hazard a guess that something like 15 to 20,000 people were impacted,” Professor Bennett-Levy told The Guardian last February. “I would say there’s been huge collective trauma as well as individual trauma.”

Lismore residents awaiting rescue during the 2022 floods
Lismore residents awaiting rescue during the 2022 floods. (Image: Cassandra Gadsby, submitted to the NSW Flood Inquiry.)

Following these floods, rates of PTSD-related symptoms within the community have increased markedly. According to one analysis, this is largely attributable to the number of people still seeking emergency accommodation (~2,000 as of October 2023), the number of people displaced from their communities (15-20,000), as well as just how life-threatening these floods were, with regional emergency services having conducted over 1,600 flood rescues.

However, this same study noted that, whilst the prevalence of PTSD has risen within the community, without better quality data on both exposure and outcomes, it is currently impossible to predict the extent to which their mental health has been compromised.

“In 2022, northern New South Wales, and [the city of] Lismore in particular, experienced Australia’s most devastating floods,” said Bennett-Levy. “People are still suffering from disaster-related post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A Novel Approach to PTSD-related Clinical Trials

The new study will rely on a ‘stepped care’ model of treatment, comprising a mix of arts- and nature-based therapies as well as a potential MDMA-based intervention.

A stepped care model of treatment consists of an evidence-based system for delivering and monitoring mental health whereby the most effective, yet least resource-intensive, treatment is used initially, with intervention progressing depending on patient need. In this instance, patients would first be treated with a combination of the therapies described above and only be initiated on an MDMA-based intervention should their symptoms not improve.

“Our research after the 2017 floods showed that mental health problems were compounded if people were self-critical and blamed themselves,” Professor Bennett-Levy stated. “We have therefore designed a stepped care program with a self-compassion focus. Step 1 will evaluate a five-session, arts-based program which engages participants in creating compassion-focused artworks. If participants still have PTSD, they may be eligible for Step 2, MDMA-assisted therapy. Prior research has shown that MDMA-assisted therapy is an effective evidence-based treatment for PTSD and enhances self-compassion.” (See, for example, van der Kolk et al., 2024.)

This will be the first instance in which a stepped care model has been deployed to treat patients with disaster-related PTSD, according to the office of Mark Butler MP, the Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care. It will be a multi-year study, initiating in September/October 2024.

The Latest in a String of Developments down Under

This move comes less than a year after the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) moved to reschedule MDMA and psilocybin for use in PTSD and TRD, respectively. (See Australia Set to Reschedule MDMA and Psilocybin When Used in Patients with PTSD or TRD and Australia Recognises MDMA and Psilocybin as Medicine for more.)

Given that access to these treatments has been spotty to say the least, advocates will likely be excited to see this federal funding for further research into MDMA, especially in a relatively overlooked subset of PTSD patients. It’s also particularly interesting as the study will employ a group MDMA-AT model, which sets it apart from many other studies of the modality.

It’s not the first time the Aussie federal government has earmarked funds for psychedelics-related research, either. In March 2021, we reported on a $15m grant program to support research into psychedelics down under, which came just weeks after the TGA rejected earlier calls for the drugs to be reclassified.


If you or someone you know lives in the Northern Rivers region and could benefit from participating in this trial, you can register your interest by sending an email to The trial will seek to enrol around 200 survivors of the floods. 

Reporting by Oliver Longstaff.