MDMA Therapy: 4 Benefits Of Treatment
MDMA (also known as ‘ecstasy’) is a popular recreational drug with a negative stigma. But the substance has gained traction for therapeutic use as well — and there are several benefits of MDMA therapy.
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is showing promising signs as an effective treatment for a range of personal and mental health problems. This article describes what MDMA therapy is, while outlining some if its benefits.
What Is MDMA Therapy?
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy involves a client taking MDMA under the supervision of a psychotherapist. In an MDMA therapy session, the client takes the substance, puts on eyeshades, and listens to pre-selected music. He or she has the eyeshades and headphones on for the majority of the session. If necessary, the client receives a further dose (about half of the initial dose) at some point during the session.
The therapist encourages clients to explore their internal experience, helps deal with any difficulties, and helps integrate their experience. The integration stage is when the therapist and client discuss the meaning of the MDMA experience. This is where it may serve as personal growth and healing. The protocol for MDMA therapy involves several preparatory sessions, MDMA sessions, and integration sessions. The research on MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, has featured three sessions for each of these stages.
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is effective for the treatment of many other conditions, alongside PTSD. Let’s take a look at some of these promising benefits.
MDMA Therapy For PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that comes from a traumatic event. Its symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, intense feelings of anxiety, and difficulties with sleep. It is common among war veterans, firefighters, police officers, and paramedics. Unfortunately, for many, the condition is treatment-resistant. This means it does not respond well to conventional treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, however, seems to be a highly effective treatment for this condition.
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ designation to MDMA. This means “preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapy”. In one study, over half of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD after treatment.
MDMA For Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is a condition in which the symptoms of anxiety manifest in the context of social situations. People with social anxiety can experience intense and debilitating feelings of worry, nervousness, and tension when in crowds. Several studies have indicated that MDMA therapy can be helpful in reducing these symptoms.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has sponsored much of the research on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. In one MAPS-funded study, researchers found MDMA therapy helped to reduce social anxiety symptoms in autistic adults. Researchers also emphasized that this type of therapy could help any cause of social anxiety, not just those related to autism.
MDMA For Alcoholism
Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is when a person can no longer control the habit, despite any negative repercussions. Intense cravings for alcohol typically follows, causing both psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms when stopping alcohol use. Alcoholism can cause serious problems at home, work, financially, and in relationships. It often leads to declining mental and physical health, as well.
In 2017, a UK research study, led by psychiatrist Ben Sessa, became the very first clinical study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol addiction. Participants took the substance in two supervised sessions with a psychiatrist. The participants had tried to give up drinking before but had relapsed, despite using other treatments.
Early results of the study show the treatment is safe and appears to help patients recover from alcoholism more effectively. This is compared to conventional treatments. The majority of completed participants of the study have either given up alcohol or have managed to control their use. Moreover, these participants suffered showed no physical or psychological problems as a result of the treatment.
MDMA-Assisted Couples Therapy
When couples are experiencing a rough patch in their relationship, psychedelics treatment can be helpful to attend couples therapy sessions. Common issues addressed in couples therapy include differences of opinion, negative life events that both are struggling with, big life changes affecting the relationship, anxieties about the relationship, sex and intimacy issues, and difficulties with communication. Conventional couples therapy can sometimes help save strained or fraying relationships and marriages. However, this option doesn’t work for many couples, with partners struggling to connect with each other and work things out.
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MDMA-assisted couples therapy is one option for couples struggling to mend their relationship. MDMA causes a surge in oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle hormone’ (because it is associated with increases in feelings of love, empathy, and connection). It’s no wonder that MDMA has become famed as the ‘love drug’.
These effects of MDMA can prove extremely useful in the context of couples therapy. For instance, a 2018 study found that MDMA therapy was effective at reducing PTSD symptoms in the majority of couples. It also improved relationship satisfaction. Katie Anderson, a PhD student, has been researching couples who take MDMA together and has found these couples rate their MDMA experiences as extremely important and meaningful. This leads to an enduring increase in closeness. More clinical trials are necessary to show how effective MDMA is in conjunction with couples therapy. However, many couples going through relationship difficulties have found success in using it.
What Comes Next?
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be helpful for a range of problems, including various mental health disorders, addictions, and relationship problems. MDMA therapy for PTSD is set to be a licensed treatment by 2021. In the years that follow, we may see MDMA used as a licensed drug in therapy to help improve lives.