What is MDMA?
3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions). It is chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens, producing feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and distorted sensory and time perception.
MDMA was initially popular in the nightclub scene and at all-night dance parties (“raves”), but the drug now affects a broader range of people who more commonly call the drug Ecstasy or Molly.
How do people use MDMA?
People who use MDMA usually take it as a capsule or tablet, though some swallow it in liquid form or snort the powder. The popular nickname Molly (slang for “molecular”) often refers to the supposedly “pure” crystalline powder form of MDMA, usually sold in capsules. However, people who purchase powder or capsules sold as Molly often actually get other drugs such as synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”) instead
Some people take MDMA in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or marijuana.
What are other health effects of MDMA?
High doses of MDMA can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to a spike in body temperature that can occasionally result in liver, kidney, or heart failure or even death.
In addition, because MDMA can promote trust and closeness, its use—especially combined with sildenafil (Viagra®)—may encourage unsafe sexual behavior. This increases people’s risk of contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.
Can MDMA be used medically?
In short, yes. Before MDMA became popular at festivals, concerts, clubs and raves, it was indeed utilized for therapeutic purposes among mental health practitioners. MDMA-assisted therapy combines traditional psychotherapy with the administration of MDMA.1
Because of MDMA’s unique effect of reducing fear and enhancing interpersonal trust, it can be especially helpful in healing psychological and emotional damage from traumas, helping the terminally ill face death, and other difficult-to-treat psychological conditions.2 MDMA has reportedly been used with over 1,000 human subjects in clinical trials without a single serious adverse event.3
When the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sought to completely prohibit MDMA in the 1980s, the medical community protested and the DEA’s own administrative law judge ruled that MDMA should not be placed in Schedule I. However, the DEA ignored this ruling and medical research was shut down for almost two decades.
Over the past decade, however, there has been a resurgence in research evaluating MDMA’s therapeutic benefits, especially regarding treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A seminal study published in 2011 found that patients who received MDMA-assisted psychotherapy reported substantial reductions in the severity of their PTSD symptoms.4 These findings have been replicated by other studies, and additional research is underway in the U.S., Canada, and Israel and soon to begin in the U.K. and Australia.5,6