Study explores therapeutic value of club drug ecstasy

Originally appeared at The recreational drug known as ecstasy may have a medicinal role to play in helping people who have trouble connecting to others socially, new research suggests. In a study involving a small group of healthy people, investigators found that the drug — also known as MDMA ­or E — prompted heightened feelings of friendliness, playfulness and love, and induced a lowering of the guard that might have therapeutic uses for improving social interactions. Yet the closeness it sparks might not result in deep and lasting connections. The findings “suggest that MDMA enhances sociability, but does not necessarily increase empathy,” noted study author Gillinder Bedi, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University. The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted at the Human Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory at the University of Chicago, was published in the Dec. 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry. In July, another study reported that E might be useful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, based on the drug’s apparent boosting of the ability to cope with grief by helping to control fears without numbing people emotionally. E is part of a family of so-called “club drugs,” which are popular with some teens and young at all-night dances or “raves.” These drugs, which are often used in combination with alcohol, have potentially life-threatening effects, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. The newest study explored the effects of E on 21 healthy volunteers, nine women and 12 men ages 18 to 38. All said they had taken E for recreational purposes at least twice in their lives. They were randomly assigned to take either a low or moderate dose of E , methamphetamine or a sugar pill during four sessions in about a three-week period. A moderate dose of E was found to significantly increase feelings of loving, friendliness and playfulness, the researchers said, whereas the low dose of E boosted feelings of loneliness. As a warning, the researchers noted that the club drug might indeed facilitate socializing, but it also might impair a person’s perceptive abilities and thus prompt risk-taking. Nonetheless, the researchers suggested that E might help people with post-traumatic stress disorder as well those with autism, schizophrenia or antisocial personality disorder cope with a variety of emotional difficulties. A new study of the effects of MDMA in healthy volunteers found that moderate doses of MDMA increased subjective feelings of friendliness, playfulness, and trust. Researchers at the University of Chicago suggest that MDMA’s ability to decrease social and emotional anxiety could make it part of an effective treatment for PTSD. The study, which was published in the December 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).