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The Therapeutic Potential of MDMA

The Therapeutic Potential of MDMA



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Published by Alan Poey
This comprehensive literature review describes the history of MDMA and MDMA research, and discusses its potential for use as a therapeutic tool.
This comprehensive literature review describes the history of MDMA and MDMA research, and discusses its potential for use as a therapeutic tool.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Alan Poey on Jun 24, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Therapeutic Potential of MDMA
Alan Poey04/01/2010The Wright Institute
MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a syntheticamphetamine derivative better known as the street drug ‘ecstasy.’ Structurally it issimilar to both amphetamines and phenethylamines, a class of mescaline-likehallucinogens. Phenomenologically, however, MDMA is quite different from both of these classes of psychoactives, known for evoking a heightened sense of empathy,comfort, sociality, and closeness to others, while diminishing feelings of fear, anxiety,and depression. Although sometimes referred to as a ‘psychedelic amphetamine’ or ‘empathogen,’ the pharmacological class that is most widely accepted today is‘entactogen.’ Coined in 1986 by researcher David E. Nichols, ‘entactogen’ essentiallymeans “to produce a touching within” (Nichols, 1986). Nichols was one of manyresearchers who in the ‘70s and ‘80s were expounding MDMA as an “outstandinglyvaluable therapeutic tool,” and coined the term because he believed ‘empathogen,’ whichcontained the word ‘pathogen,’ would create a negative impression in the mind of the psychiatric patient (Nichols, 1986).Although first used therapeutically in the United States by a small number of clinicians with selected clients, word of its effects inevitably spread, and over the lastthree decades MDMA has gained huge popularity as a recreational drug. In 1981 the brand name ‘Ecstasy’ was coined by a Los Angeles distribution network, in hopes that itwould sell better than the arguably more appropriate name ‘Empathy,’ the name that had been used along with ‘Adam’ by therapists (Eisner, 1989). Throughout the ’80s, demandfor ecstasy increased exponentially throughout Europe and the United States, mostnotably within the underground rave scene (all night dance parties with electronic music2
THE THERAPEUTIC POTENTIAL OF MDMAand light shows). At raves, MDMA is usually sold in the form of colored pressed pills,which are notorious for their unreliable dosages and potential for being laced with other chemicals and street drugs (Erowid, 2010).Today, ecstasy is among the most popular recreational drugs. In 2008, 5.2% of the US population aged 12 or older had tried MDMA, and in 2009, 6.5% of 12
gradershad tried MDMA (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). Because of its classificationas a Schedule One banned substance, its infamous ties to the rave scene counterculture,and all the negative press it has received surrounding reports of neurotoxicity in animalsand ecstasy-related deaths in humans, attention is rarely paid to MDMA’s roots as atherapeutic tool. In recent years, however, this is beginning to change, as we are seeing arenewed interest within the research community in the potential use of MDMA in thetreatment of depression and anxiety disorders, particularly Post Traumatic StressDisorder. Thanks in large part to private funding and a several decade-long effort by theMultidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a non-profit research andeducational organization, permission has been granted by the FDA for several clinicalstudies currently underway investigating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. This paper will review the history of MDMA research and discuss its potential for use as an adjunctto psychotherapy.
MDMA was originally patented in 1914 in Europe by Merck & Company as anintermediate chemical involved in the production of new blood clotting agents(Freudenmann et al. 2006). Its physiological or psychological effects were not3

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