MDMA therapy uses regulated doses of MDMA alongside psychotherapy sessions to help treat certain psychiatric conditions.
MDMA increases certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, in the brain. Regulated doses in a controlled setting may help improve psychotherapy sessions for certain conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
MDMA may help people receiving therapy access traumatic memories more easily, allowing them to work through them with less anxiety or stress.
This article examines the current research behind MDMA therapy, its uses, and what the process of MDMA therapy may involve.
MDMA therapy uses regulated doses of MDMA in a clinical setting to help healthcare professionals treat certain psychiatric conditions, such as PTSD.
MDMA stands for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is an empathogen, which is a type of drug that alters neurotransmitters in the brain to affect how a person feels.
People may refer to recreational MDMA as ecstasy. Clinical use of MDMA is not the same as ecstasy.
MDMA therapy uses pharmaceutical grade MDMA. Ecstasy may contain an unknown quantity of MDMA, along with a mix of other ingredients that may be harmful.
Healthcare professionals administer a regulated dose of MDMA in a controlled setting to treat specific psychiatric conditions that research suggests MDMA may benefit.
The use of MDMA in psychotherapy sessions may help reduce anxiety or defensiveness in the person receiving therapy. This may increase the level of trust and bond between the person and the therapist, allowing them to open up more freely and have more productive sessions.
People may be able to revisit traumatic memories to work through them without becoming overwhelmed, overly anxious, or stressed.
Current research is investigating the uses of MDMA therapy in the treatment of:
- eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa restricting subtype (AN-R) and binge-eating disorder
- anxiety disorders, including anxiety in adults with autism
Research into MDMA therapy for treating PTSD is currently in the third and final stage of clinical trials.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MDMA as a
The FDA has also allowed an expanded access program for MDMA therapy, which means people who have life threatening, treatment-resistant PTSD and are unable to take part in clinical trials can access MDMA therapy.
The study found that MDMA therapy reduced anxiety more than those in the placebo group. However, researchers require larger-scale clinical trials to show whether it has the potential to be an effective treatment.
Research into MDMA therapy as a treatment for eating disorders is also in the initial stages.
MDMA increases levels of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, which are chemical messengers in the brain.
In particular, MDMA increases norepinephrine and serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate behaviors and functions such as sleep, pain, and appetite and has mood-elevating effects.
MDMA increases levels of certain hormones that affect the stress response. MDMA also increases oxytocin and prolactin, which are both hormones that link to trust and bonding. MDMA also reduces activity in the amygdala, which is part of the brain that processes fear and trauma.
These effects may help treat conditions such as PTSD, as they allow people to talk more openly in therapy about traumatic memories.
Research into MDMA therapy is now in the third stage of clinical trials. This is the final stage before potential approval from the FDA, which would make it available as a treatment option in the United States.
The study included 90 participants with severe PTSD who were randomly put into two groups. Both groups received therapy sessions alongside either MDMA or a placebo.
The researchers found that three doses of MDMA alongside therapy sessions over the course of 18 weeks resulted in a significant reduction in PTSD and depressive symptoms.
After 18 weeks, 67% of participants in the MDMA group and 32% in the placebo group no longer met the criteria for PTSD diagnosis.
After three therapy sessions, 33% of participants in the MDMA group and 5% in the placebo group met the criteria for remission of PTSD.
Treatment with MDMA was safe and well-tolerated and did not increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or potential for drug misuse.
To treat PTSD, a healthcare professional will deliver therapy sessions with the use of MDMA in three 8-hour sessions. These will take place 3–5 weeks apart.
Alongside these sessions, people will receive 12 therapy sessions without MDMA. These help people prepare for and integrate the drug-assisted sessions.
MDMA therapy is still undergoing research on how safe and effective it is. MDMA therapy has not yet had approval from the FDA as an available treatment option.
A statement from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) suggests that MDMA therapy for mental health conditions such as PTSD could be an available treatment option in the near future.
If people with PTSD want to learn about participating in current clinical trials for MDMA therapy, they can talk with a healthcare professional. People can also find out more information through MAPS.
MDMA therapy is the use of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA alongside psychotherapy sessions.
Research has investigated the use of MDMA therapy to treat PTSD. It may also help treat other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders and eating disorders.
In MDMA therapy, healthcare professionals administer a regulated dose of MDMA to people receiving therapy.
The effects of MDMA may help make people recall traumatic memories to work through in the session while helping to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Research into MDMA therapy as a treatment for PTSD is now in the final stages, after which the FDA may consider it as a treatment option for PTSD.