MDMA: Present & Future
You might know MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine) by its more common names of molly or ecstasy. Like its other psychedelic counterparts, MDMA is equally intriguing and influential in the experience of self and others and has been researched more and more as its benefits in the therapeutic realm are being unveiled.
Beginnings of MDMA
MDMA was first synthesized over a hundred years ago. It was in the 1970s, however, when MDMA research really took off because of Sasha Shulgin, a chemist who conducted psychedelic drug research. Shulgin not only personally experimented with MDMA, but he had his close friends and family try it, too! Through these experiences, he recognized its therapeutic potential, as it had impacts such as increasing empathy for and connectedness between people.
Have you ever heard of the song “Love Potion Number 9”? While it’s not your typical love potion, MDMA has the nickname “love drug” for a reason. It has a particular effect on mood and emotions because of its chemical effects on serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and dopamine in the brain. This is where the connectedness to other people comes in—this “loved up” feeling often leaves people experiencing more empathy and affection for people, even strangers! Some MDMA users experience other side effects after taking the drug, including irritability, fatigue, and muscle aches.
MDMA Mental Health
MDMA has primarily made a name for itself in the treatment of PTSD. Remember the increased empathy for and connection to others that results from MDMA? That can be present for oneself as well. This allows for people with PTSD to have greater self-awareness while being in a safer emotional and mental space with professionals to work through things related to their trauma during therapy integration sessions.
How does this exactly work? As you could imagine, one of the symptoms of PTSD is fear. This fear results from and is associated with the trauma that the person endured (which often manifests through flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks). MDMA comes in through its influence on the amygdala, which is basically the part of the brain that deals with fear. These effects essentially allow for the fear-based memories to come up in a less-frightening way that allows for MDMA users to deal with them more effectively.
While there is less research using MDMA to treat other mental health symptoms, there is still significant promise for its potential. For the same reasons as listed above for PTSD, MDMA has also seen to be useful with anxiety. There have even been studies conducted specifically looking at the use of MDMA for anxiety resulting from life-threatening illnesses. These studies have found a decrease in anxiety for individuals who took MDMA compared to those in control groups.
Where Is the Future of MDMA Heading?
There is no doubt that the research on using MDMA in a therapeutic setting. MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has also begun research on utilizing MDMA for eating disorders. The benefits of MDMA are even being recognized at a federal level, as the FDA has designated MDMA-assisted therapy as a Breakthrough Therapy for PTSD.
While it has been well-known for decades through its street drug names like ecstasy and molly, MDMA’s psychotherapeutic benefits are beginning to take center stage. This poises MDMA as an up-and-coming psychedelic that can have great influence in the fields of medicine and mental health alike.