MDMA and mood: starting the PhD journey

4 October 2022

Student spotlight: Zachary Bryant

We sat down with PhD student, Zachary Bryant, to chat about his research in understanding the relationship between MDMA (ecstasy), mental health, and addiction; and the implications for novel psychedelic treatments. Zac also shares some of the items in his 'mental health and well being toolkit' and his love of football.
Zachary Bryant

Zachary Bryant, PhD student and Research Assistant

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research?

Well, I love waking up at all hours of the night to watch football (soccer – I shouldn’t have to put this in here), seeing as much live music as one can do, and spending my money on delicious food. On the weekends you will find me managing and playing for the AA13s Ashfield Pirates football team.

I have worked as a research assistant at the Matilda Centre since 2019 on a range of research projects. This is where my curiosity was piqued in the area of substance use and mental health. This led me to complete my Master of Public Health at the University of Sydney, specialising in research methods so that I could continue to pursue my interests in mood disorders and psychedelic substance use.

As a part of my masters, I completed a special project with one of my current PhD supervisors designing a survey instrument to assess clinician attitudes towards the use of psychedelics in treatment. From here I knew that I was going to continue my research into the effects and possible therapeutic applications of recreationally used illicit substances.

Now my research area focuses on using contemporary approaches to better understanding the relationship between MDMA and mood and how that can inform the application of MDMA assisted therapy in the treatment for mental health and substance use disorders

In your experience, what’s the most exciting part of the PhD journey?

I believe the most exciting part (and scary part) of a PhD is the autonomous pursuit of research areas that interest you, that are led by you with the support of some of the best researchers in the field. I have also found the ideas process, creating research questions, and thinking through the most appropriate methods to conduct the research quite an enjoyable journey.

Recently, I have really enjoyed working with clinical stakeholders and implementation specialists to further develop and focus test my clinician survey. Watching this whole process come together, collaborating with external stakeholders and seeing other professionals interested and supportive of your ideas is quite special!

How would you describe your area of research to someone at a dinner party outside your field?

When I talk to people outside of my field about my work there always seems to be a few ways to help them understand what I am doing. Normally I would explain how the relationship between how MDMA and mood interact is not very clear and how I hope to shed more light on the effects of MDMA on mood and vice versa. People will often ask how I am going to do that and one of the methods I will be using is known as ecological momentary assessment or in lay terms, creating a study to assess MDMA use and mood in the participant’s natural environment by sending alerts to their smartphones triggering short survey responses in real time.

I often talk to people about the emerging research around MDMA assisted therapy for people with post-traumatic stress disorder and how better understanding how these therapies might affect mood in the days following their session of MDMA may in fact help us better understand its utility in the treatment space. The conversation usually comes full circle and is a bit of fun… For me at least.

This October issue, we’re celebrating National Mental Health Month. So, we want to know, what is something that you do to look after your own mental health and wellbeing?

Football team photo

AA13s Ashfield Pirates football team

Great question! There are a few things that I do to look after my mental health, but I would say that playing football or going for runs would be my top pick.

There are also smaller things like taking the time for self-care whether that means switching off from social media for an hour or two, sitting outside in the sun, going out for a delicious meal, reading a book or watching a new film.

Music is also a big part of my self-care package. I think allowing yourself to switch off is really important!!

Zachary Bryant

Research Assistant
  • Level 6 Jane Foss Russell Building G02

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