Psychotherapy Elicits Ecstasy

MDMA, or 'ecstasy', may help patients with autism, schizophrenia, and antisocial personality disorder

December 15, 2010 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) University of Chicago researchers, through funding by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have found evidence that feelings of empathy and social connection elicited from the drug MDMA or 'ecstasy' may be useful for psychotherapy.

The empathogenic effects of MDMA could help those suffering from autism, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder, mental health disorders that cause patients to struggle feeling connected to others.

The study's findings are published in the most recent issue of Biological Psychiatry.

"We found that MDMA produced friendliness, playfulness, and loving feelings, even when it was administered to people in a laboratory with little social contact," says Dr. Gillinder Bedi, author of the study. "We also found that MDMA reduced volunteers' capacity to recognize facial expressions of fear in other people, an effect that may be involved in the increased sociability said to be produced by MDMA."

The data, gathered from analysis of healthy volunteers, offers evidence explaining why ecstasy is popular recreationally, as the drug can make others seem more attractive and friendly as well as less threatening.

Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, explained: "Within the context of treatment, these effects may promote intimacy among people who have difficulty feeling close to others. However, MDMA distorts one's perception of others rather than producing true empathy. Thus, MDMA may cause problems if it leads people to misinterpret the emotional state and perhaps intentions of others."

More research is necessary before MDMA could be considered a safe and useful psychotherapy treatment. These findings further highlight the need to comprehend how various drugs affect social experiences.

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Review Date: 
December 15, 2010
Last Updated:
December 15, 2010