Indy Media: Can MDMA Help Autistic People Cope with Social Anxiety?

Summary: Indy Media explores MAPS’ study of MDMA-assisted therapy for social anxiety in autistic adults. The article details MAPS’ ongoing clinical trial and interviews MAPS-sponsored researcher Alicia Danforth, Ph.D.

Originally appearing here.

Imagine a magic bullet that only needs to be used a few times to treat otherwise treatment-resistant conditions. A bullet that could erase the need for medication. It might sound like science fiction, but such a miracle drug might have been accidentally discovered more than 30 years ago and brushed under the rug by our government.

Alicia Danforth, a psychologist and researcher at LA BioMed, is testing the safety of using 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in conjunction with dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to help people with treatment-resistant social anxiety learn how to overcome their social anxiety. The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelics Studies better known as MAPS ( is providing the funding needed to conduct this study.

Dr. Danforth made it clear that she was “not attempting to treat autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, but was rather looking at the benefits of using MDMA to treat social anxiety which is only one symptom that affects some people on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spectrum.”

She chose to study people who fell on the ASD spectrum because they were less likely than people in the general population to be helped by more traditional therapies. According to a report on the MAPS website, treatments that work very well for neurotypical people often fail to provide benefits for people on the ASD spectrum because they have a much harder time than their neurotypical peers in forming a rapport with therapists.

The study, which currently features ten patients, is observing how safe it is to use MDMA, and not the long-term benefits of MDMA. To my knowledge, this is the only study being conducted to test the use of MDMA in helping autistic people overcome social anxiety. Two more subjects are currently being evaluated to see if they can participate in the study. The long-term effects of MDMA are speculative and unsubstantiated at this time. Hopefully, this study will help determine if MDMA will provide long-term benefits to autistic people suffering from social anxiety.

According to Dr. Danforth, the benefits observed in autistic people who have completed the study has lasted many months. The benefits of the study are calculated by Christopher Struble, MD who uses the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale to measure how the subjects improve.

Dr. Struble only measures the results of the MDMA therapy and does not engage in any other parts of the study to minimize the risk of bias tainting the study. Dr. Danforth hypothesizes that the benefits from the study occur because the subjects experience “an altered state of consciousness from the MDMA and not as a direct result of the pharmaceutical action of the MDMA.”

One of the major problems people on the ASD spectrum face is called alexithymia, or the inability to verbalize their emotional states, said Dr. Danforth.

Dr. Danforth advises people against self-medicating with MDMA because people cannot be assured about the purity or dosage of MDMA bought off the streets. She also had a medical team on standby in case life support was needed. Because the subjects were carefully selected and monitored, none of the patients involved in the study needed any medical interventions.

One of the main benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy is the limited number of times that the medication needs to be used to get lasting results. “Two applications of MDMA have lasting effects to people on the ASD spectrum who suffer from social anxiety, and the maximum of three applications has been shown to benefit veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD,” Dr. Danforth said.

Her inspiration for this line of research stemmed from Gary Fisher’s research conducted in the 1960s. He a psychologist who worked at a hospital in Sothern California and tested LSD on autistic children who were unable to communicate. While not every patient was helped, a few patients who society had given up on, were able to attend a public school as a result of Dr. Fisher’s therapy. It would currently be impossible to conduct such research because institutional review boards would not allow doctors to conduct medical research without the informed consent of subjects.

Amy Thompson (note: the name was changed to protect her privacy), an autistic person from Canada, is using Cannabis Sativa to help overcome her social anxiety so that she can work. She is using Cannabis Indica to help quiet her overactive mind so she can sleep at night. Mrs. Thompson has a medical marijuana card in Canada so she can legally access cannabis.

She said, “legal cannabis costs much more than buying cannabis from dealers” and that “she would start buying cannabis from street dealers again if her card was not renewed.” She also told me that since autism is not a qualifying condition for getting cannabis in Canada many doctors are giving cannabis to autistic people for neuroleptic pain or other co-morbid conditions but are being pressured by the Canadian Ministry of Health to stop this practice.

Mrs. Thompson said that she “will need to travel to another province the next time she wants to get her card renewed.” Her current doctor was pressured by the Canadian Ministry of Health not to renew medical marijuana cards for autistic patients who are using the marijuana to help them deal with social anxiety. Going to another doctor to get medication your main doctor refuses to provide to you is known as doctor shopping.

To help support this research, you can donate to MAPS ( or to the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center ( MAPS is also investigating the use of MDMA and Ayahuasca (a very powerful hallucinogenic drug that results in total ego loss) to help veterans with PTSD, and the use of Ibogaine (an LSD-like drug that has psychedelic effects that last for two or three days) to help heroin addicts stop using heroin without going through withdrawal. MAPS is a non-profit group which investigates the medicinal uses of psychedelics.