At Daytryp Health, we are dedicated to providing information and support for those facing mental health challenges. If you or a loved one is struggling, it can be comforting to know that heavily researched psychedelic medicines are emerging as highly-effective, fast-acting treatments where traditional methods have failed.
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is one of those medicines. Although often associated with recreational drug use, MDMA (also known as ecstasy and molly) has shown powerful therapeutic potential when used in clinical settings with trained professionals.
In 1912, a German pharmaceutical corporation developed MDMA as the main compound used to synthesize medications that controlled bleeding. Contrary to popular belief, it was not initially developed as an appetite suppressant.
During the 70s and 80s, MDMA gained popularity with a small group of psychiatrists, as it appeared to improve communication for their patients during therapy and encouraged new insights to their issues. It was also during this time that MDMA became popular on the party scene.
Ecstasy pills are the most notable and popular form of MDMA. Unfortunately, ecstasy often contains other substances besides MDMA which result in varying and sometimes harmful effects. This led MDMA to being classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in 1985, meaning it was deemed to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
For decades, the non-profit organization Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been leading efforts to gain FDA approval for MDMA to treat mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and others.
In 2017, the FDA granted MDMA ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ designation, which accelerates the development and review of drugs intended to treat serious conditions. The designation was granted for MDMA based on promising results from MAPS Phase 2 clinical trials that demonstrated the potential for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy (MDMA-AT) to provide significant and long-lasting improvement in PTSD symptoms.
Phase 3 trials were expedited and completed in late 2022, and it is projected that MDMA will be available by prescription for the treatment of PTSD as early as the end of 2023.
MDMA works primarily by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin.
Together, the effects of MDMA on these four neurotransmitters can produce a state of increased emotional openness, empathy, and honesty, which can be useful in the context of psychotherapy.
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MDMA-assisted therapy refers to a therapeutic approach where MDMA is used as a tool to aid in psychotherapy sessions. In this form of therapy, patients take a limited, controlled dose of MDMA while under the guidance of a trained therapist. The goal of MDMA-AT is to help patients process and overcome certain mental health conditions and life challenges, such as:
MDMA is effective in talk therapy because it increases feelings of empathy, emotional openness, and trust, allowing individuals to explore and process past traumatic experiences that may otherwise remain guarded and hard to access. Additionally, it temporarily reduces anxiety and fear, allowing individuals to confront difficult emotions and memories with greater ease.
MDMA Therapy for PTSD
Healthcare professionals use a three-part MDMA-assisted therapy approach to treat PTSD, which involves 8-hour sessions spaced 3-5 weeks apart. Additionally, patients undergo 12 therapy sessions without the drug to prepare for and integrate the drug-assisted sessions.
MDMA Therapy for Couples and Relationships
MDMA-assisted therapy for couples typically involves both partners taking MDMA in a controlled therapeutic setting, with the guidance of trained therapists. The session usually lasts for around 8 hours, and takes place in a private, comfortable, and safe environment.
During the session, the couple is encouraged to communicate with each other, explore their relationship, and discuss any issues or conflicts they may be facing. The effects of MDMA, including increased empathy and openness, can help couples connect more deeply and work through difficult emotions or past traumas.
Like with PTSD therapy, couples receiving MDMA-assisted therapy will also have regular therapy sessions before and after the MDMA-assisted sessions to help with preparation and integration. It is important that both partners feel safe, comfortable, and willing to participate in the therapy before beginning treatment.
Due to MDMA’s limited published research, there aren’t many developed protocols around its therapeutic use. As clinical trials are completed and studies are published, we will learn more about the specific methods used to treat other condition
MDMA has proven to be effective on symptoms related to PTSD, such as anxiety and depression. Even though published, peer-reviewed studies on MDMA are limited, there are dozens of published papers that point to positive trends towards its therapeutic capabilities. MDMA’s potential is being further explored through numerous ongoing clinical trials investigating its effectiveness in a range of mental health and substance abuse disorders. Let’s explore a few.
MDMA Therapy for Social Anxiety in Autistic Adults
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is also being explored as a treatment for anxiety, including social anxiety disorder in individuals on the autism spectrum. A 2018 study published by MAPS titled, “MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for social anxiety in autistic adults,” found statistically significant improvements in anxiety symptoms after three sessions of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy compared to a control group.
MDMA Therapy for Anxiety Associated with Life Threatening Illnesses
Another study, “Pilot Study of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated with Life-Threatening Illnesses,” found that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy resulted in reduced anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses. The study consisted of 12 participants, who received three doses of MDMA during therapy sessions over a period of three months.
The results showed significant decreases in anxiety levels and improvements in quality of life. These findings provide further support for the use of MDMA in the treatment of anxiety, particularly in those with life-threatening illnesses.
MDMA Therapy and Social Anxiety Disorder
A review article from 2021 has explored the potential of MDMA-assisted therapy for treating the various symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD). The authors hypothesize how disruptions in neurological, perceptual, receptive, and expressive systems regulating social behavior in SAD may take place as a result of MDMA-assisted therapy.
The article suggests that MDMA-assisted therapy may enhance motivation to connect with others and alter perceptions of social reward, increase the reinforcement value of social interactions, enhance experiences of affiliation and safety when interacting with others, reduce feelings of shame and self-criticism, and improve social skills and interpersonal responses. The authors call for more research to explore the potential of MDMA-AT in treating SAD.
MDMA Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder
This article brings attention to the fact that while MDMA has not been officially studied as a treatment for any type of substance use disorder (SUD), it has shown promise as a tool for addressing trauma linked to PTSD, which often presents with SUD. Recent studies using fMRI have revealed how MDMA may help individuals better cope with distressing memories. As a result, MDMA may have the ability to improve and augment the psychotherapeutic approaches used in treating alcohol use disorder.
The increasing body of research on the use of MDMA-assisted therapy has shown promising results in treating various mental health conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Although further research is needed, the results of these studies suggest that MDMA-assisted therapy may provide a new and effective treatment option for individuals struggling with mental health and alcohol abuse issues, as well as couples experiencing relationship issues.
With the increasing legalization of MDMA for therapeutic purposes, Daytryp will be among the first organizations participating in clinical trials and offering this innovative approach when it becomes available. If you are interested in MDMA therapy, please sign up for our mailing list to receive future announcements and offerings.