New Study Uses MDMA To Treat Social Anxiety In Autistic People

Collective Evolution features an overview of MAPS’ new study of MDMA-assisted therapy to treat social anxiety in autistic adults. The article describes the history of MDMA’s use in therapeutic contexts, summarizes researchers’ perspectives about why MDMA-assisted therapy may help alleviate social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum, and highlights future avenues for psychedelic research. "These are exciting times indeed, with the latest push to explore the promising therapeutic and medicinal benefits of various plants and psychedelics such as cannabis, LSD, ayahuasca, ibogaine, MDMA, and more,” explains Jeff Roberts of Collective Evolution.

Originally appearing here.

For decades, the empathogenic drug known as MDMA, or 3,4-Methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine, has been a subject often associated with the early 2000′s rave culture, far extended from association with therapy and other medicinal applications. Unfortunately, being that MDMA is a heavily controlled drug in many countries, proper research for therapeutic applications has been extremely limited, until recently.

MAPS (The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) broke news this year of the preliminary steps of a ground-breaking new study which is looking at treating autistic patients who suffer from social anxiety with MDMA.

Autistic Therapeutic Interventions

Although the complex set of distinctions between autistic and non-autistic neurology is not fully understood, we do know that the subjective experience of autistic people tends to be more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals, as the impact of information processing tends to be both stronger and less predictable on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels.

According to MAPS, “the early lives of autistic individuals often involve repeated traumatic experiences of social rejection and abuse (by family, professionals, peers, and others). As a result, many autistic individuals suffer from diagnosed conditions such as anxiety (particularly social anxiety), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression, as well as difficulties with interpersonal connection and social adaptability.”

For the most part, conventional medications are ineffective in treating stress related issues among autistic people, and because autistic people have difficulties building rapport with therapists, traditional psychotherapy also fails to treat the issue. Therefore, new treatment options are being explored in order to provide autistic individuals with an improved quality of life.


First synthesized in 1912, MDMA has been a popular topic of discussion due to its unique psychoactive properties. It is considered an entheogen, a substance which produces spiritual, transcendent experiences for its users. “Its unique pharmacological properties make it a viable adjunct as a therapy for social anxiety in autistic patients”, states the MAPS official study website. Some of these properties include:

-Decreased feelings of fear
-Increased feelings of well-being
-Increased sociability
-Increased interpersonal trust
-Alert state of consciousness
-Increased awareness of some domains of empathy
-MDMA-assisted therapy combines the techniques of traditional psychotherapy along with the controlled administration of MDMA in order to enhance the therapy’s effectiveness.

The therapeutic method will be adapted from therapy techniques that have shown clinical effectiveness in adults with an Autism Spectrum diagnosis. Best practices from clinical research on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD also will be applied.

MAPS states that the method will focus on developing a therapeutic relationship with the subjects that will provide a permissive setting in which to learn and practice social skills.

A Determined Team of Researchers

The study is headed by Charles S. Grob, M.D.,  Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, as well as Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. Grob’s co-investigator is Alicia Danforth Ph.D, research associate at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. 

“The question is: ‘Can we re-engage this area in a responsible, objective way to explore methods of a treatment?’ ” Grob said to the Daily News. “But to do so in a responsible way, unlike what happened in the ’60s.”

Each study participant (who are all adults) who receives the active drug will be given a small dose of 75 to 125 milligrams, and a male and female researcher will sit with them throughout the six to eight hour process, during which they will be closely monitored.

“We try to optimize ‘set and setting’ in order to ensure strong, safe parameters,” Grob said. “I suppose that is ultimately derived from the shamanic model.”

Grobs is one of the growing number of scientists and researchers who believe that psychedelics such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, and MDMA hold the answers for treatment of various mental illnesses and addictions.  His resume definitely isn’t shy of psychedelic research- since the 1990′s Grobs has been involved with rare studies examining the benefits of ayahusaca, and psilocybin.  In both of his studies, Grobs found that psychedelics are helpful in ways that conventional medicine is not.

“We’re looking for something to facilitate positive, ongoing change,” Grob said. “You can’t take an autistic person and make them un-autistic, but you can treat the overwhelming social anxiety.”

A Triumphant Return

The study of psychedelics blew-up in the 1950′s as curious researchers began exploring their clinical applications. Scientists and researchers of the time were astounded by the mind-altering properties of psychedelics and wondered if they could help treat psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. Even the military became involved with psychedelic testing, for instance they used MDMA as an interrogation tool in their MKUltra program.[3]

The 1960′s propagated a new perspective on psychedelics as they became the forefront of the counter-culture movement which was sweeping the Western world at the time. People were waking up to government nonsense and taking a stand against war, specifically the Vietnam War. Therefore, it wasn’t long until the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, placing most psychedelics under strict control. This, along with the promotion of drug propaganda through the media, silenced most psychedelic research for decades to come.

MDMA was a late bloomer and didn’t start gaining popularity until the 1970′s, where clinical psychologists and therapists began implementing MDMA use during client sessions. MDMA was found to enhance communication during clinical sessions, reduce patients’ psychological defenses, and increase capacity for therapeutic introspection.

During the 1980′s, the use of MDMA moved into the clubber and rave culture, where party-goers would use the stimulant to dance through long hours of the night. This popularity among the young fueled the DEA to classify MDMA as a schedule I drug in 1985, inhibiting MDMA research along with it.

Now, we see the return of interest in MDMA-assisted therapy. Charles Grobs hopes the negative stigma of the drug can be amended with adherence to strict scientific models, which Grob has designed based on the historic use
of hallucinogenics in “shamanic society.”

Now that research with these drugs has resumed, the next hurdle is getting financing for such studies. Grob and Danforth will not be able to finish the current MDMA study unless they receive more funds.More To Come?

These are exciting times indeed, with the latest push to explore the promising therapeutic and medicinal benefits of various plants and psychedelics such as cannabis, LSD, ayahuasca, ibogaine, MDMA, and more. We’ve already seen how ayahuasca and ibogaine are showing remarkable results in treating severe drug addiction. We’re also witnessing how concentrated forms of medical cannabis is eradicating cancer and other life threatening diseases.

Perhaps this was how it was intended to be all along, nature being the cure for mankind’s ailments and collective insanity. The next few years will prove to be innovative and ground-breaking nonetheless, as more truth comes to light about the powerful healing capabilities of plants and psychedelics, so stay tuned.

What are your thoughts about the use of MDMA-assisted therapy? Do you think that psychedelics should be examined more for their medicinal and therapeutic properties? Share with us below!