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Researchers Weigh in on the Hype About MDMA Therapy

June 7, 2021 10:43 am ET
Researchers Weigh in on the Hype About MDMA Therapy

Note: Veriheal does not support illegally consuming therapeutic substances like MDMA but acknowledges that it transpires because of the current illicit status of both, which we strive to change by advocating for research, legal access, and responsible consumption. Always consult a physician before attempting alternative therapies.


Can you imagine what it is like to be overcome with intense feelings of euphoria? In the midst of all the madness caused by the motions of life, you take a pill and suddenly everything is brighter, more magical, and just feels so darn good? It turns out that this blissful drug, MDMA, has the potential to be used effectively as a treatment for certain conditions- some of which are in urgent need of effective medical assistance. 

What is MDMA?

MDMA is short for methylenedioxymethamphetamine, which is a synthetic drug that has the ability to act as a stimulant and hallucinogen, according to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. MDMA is derived from amphetamines which are classified as a group of stimulant drugs that increase certain chemicals of the brain. Effects that can be expected from this substance include stimulation and enhancement. In other words, one can expect an increase in awareness of the self and the body, intensified sensory perception, increased energy, a more open disposition, reduced anxiety, distortion of time and space as well as elevating the mood- making one happy. 

The NIH goes on to explain that MDMA is also available in the form of ‘Molly’. ‘Molly’ is slang for ‘molecular’ and is the crystalline powder form of MDMA. Molly can be consumed in the form of a capsule or powder while MDMA is consumed in the form of a tablet or capsule. However, Molly that has been seized by law enforcement has been found to contain other types of drugs too, some also contained no MDMA at all despite supposedly being the crystalline form of MDMA. 

While this article has been written for educational purposes, it is important to remember that this substance is listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic in the US. Purchasing this substance is therefore illegal and when accessed through illegal channels, is associated with multiple risks. 

How Does MDMA Work?

MDMA triggers the release of neurotransmitters- which are the chemical messengers in the brain which inform changes in brain activity. The release of neurotransmitters includes dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, prolactin, cortisol, and vasopressin. The release of these neurotransmitters is the reason for the following benefits. 

Benefits:

MDMA research has been given the green light by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to assess its potential and efficacy for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But what are the medicinal benefits associated with this synthetic substance which led to the FDA’s support? Well, let’s have a look at the following benefits which could be expected. 

  • Reducing anxiety and fear due to anxiolytic properties.
  • Enhancing interpersonal trust. 
  • Elevated mood (including boosting happiness).
  • Assisting with healing from psychological and emotional damage from traumas.
  • Enabling the terminally ill to come to terms with their death. 
  • Reductions in PTSD-related symptoms including intrusive memories (such as flashbacks), negative changes in thinking and mood (such as hopelessness) as well as changes in physical and emotional reactions (such as being easily startled or frightened). 

MDMA has also reportedly been used with over 1,000 individuals in clinical trials, with no adverse effects to report. 

Consuming Therapeutically and Recreationally

MDMA is a popular recreational drug that is consumed orally. According to the study by Stephen Peroutka, the recreational use of MDMA in America has “never been documented adequately”. However, it is known that MDMA is popularly consumed at parties, raves, and any other social events which pair well with the stimulation and if you will, the ‘enlightenment’ associated with MDMA. However, recreational use is often done in uncontrolled, uncontrollable, and non-clinical environments without the support of medical professionals- meaning that consumption in this capacity is substantially riskier.

When consumed therapeutically, MDMA is administered through a process known as MDMA-Assisted Therapy. Experts suggest that MDMA provides a “unique ability to allow patients to examine traumatic experiences without experiencing the attendant pain, which enables them to work through the issue with their therapist”. MDMA-assisted therapy is done over sessions where the patients will receive a tablet or capsule containing the substance. It would take around two to three sessions over 12 weeks in order to see results, however, this is dependent on the severity of the condition being treated.

Each capsule or tablet is said to contain a 125-gram dose of the substance which can take effect around 45 minutes after consumption. The medical professional administering this treatment may give the patient a follow-up half-dose around 2 hours after the first one- although this only happens when deemed necessary. In this process, psychotherapists are available to facilitate the whole session in order to guide the patient through the process- whether physically, emotionally, or psychologically.  

Conditions That Could Benefit from MDMA Therapy 

Considering the nature and effects of this drug, it stands to reason that the conditions which would benefit most from MDMA would be those with cognitive conditions. 

  • PTSD

A study published on The Lancet Psychiatry found that MDMA was able to treat PTSD in the majority of their participants- which consisted of veterans, firefighters, police officers, and the likes. The study was led by Michael Mithoefer and Ann Mithoefer but includes several other medical professionals, one of whom is Dr. Rick Doblin who stated that “in a few deep therapeutic sessions with MDMA, people can change decades and decades of patterns of fear-based on certain emotions and that’s what is so remarkable about it”. 

  • Anxiety

Healthline explains that “MDMA has been noted for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties”. Dr. Donlin from the study above has also completed the second phase of treatment for a study on MDMA therapy for social anxiety in adults with autism. The results of the study are promising since the drug can suppress amygdala activity- which is “a part of the brain which is responsible for fear and anxiety”.

  • Depression

Unfortunately, the interaction between MDMA and depression has not been well-established but it is considered to be “theoretically well-grounded” due to the fact that the substance has the ability to elevate mood, reduce anxiety and open up the consumer’s disposition. 

  • Alcohol Addiction

The world’s first trial for MDMA as a treatment for alcohol addiction was published in 2017. The participants of this study were considered to be heavy drinkers which have failed in previous attempts to stop. The study found promising results and is said to be able to assist with alcohol addiction which is rooted in trauma, as Dr. Doblin explains, “what drives a lot of alcohol or substance abuse is people running away from trauma”. 

Research is currently limited on MDMA for therapy but thanks to the FDA approval for research and the promising potential of MDMA, people will soon have a better understanding of the workings of MDMA for therapeutic and medicinal purposes. Finding therapeutic solutions, such as MDMA, for conditions that are widely unresponsive to medication, such as PTSD and treatment-resistant depression, is more promising than ever. While MDMA stands a chance of gaining federal legalization in America before cannabis, one hopes that the FDA can continue approving the research of alternative means of treatment (including the likes of psilocybin) for the sake of the people. 

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