Is Ecstasy a love potion?

Ecstasy was once used to describe profound spiritual experiences but it is a word that has been appropriated in the 21st century as the name of a synthetic psychoactive drug that is chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. The chemical name of ecstasy is 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, so we will call it MDMA.

MDMA has the capacity to increase feelings of connection and empathy with others; that is why people take it recreationally. It is sometimes viewed as a love drug through its power to make people feel empathy for others. That is why this new study was looking at ecstasy to see exactly what it is doing to perception to see if it might be a useful tool for psychotherapy. Before we look at the study though, it will help to see how ecstasy works on the biochemical level.

MDMA causes its main effects by impacting the serotonin system in the brain. It does two things; it causes more serotonin to be released and it stops serotonin being broken down. Since serotonin is a feel good chemical the resultant serotonin flood can have profound results.

In this new study MDMA was given to healthy volunteers and it was found that it did tend to elicit friendliness, playfulness, and loving feelings. Additionally however, MDMA reduced the subject’s ability to identify expressions of fear in other people which may cause the increased sociability of MDMA users. Importantly it also makes others appear less threatening which might increase social risk taking.

These actions might make MDMA a viable treatment for people with pathological intimacy problems. The researchers make an important point though by saying that MDMA has its effects by distorting perceptions of others, not by producing true empathy. For the “casual user” there are a litany of reasons why you should think twice, or twenty times, before using MDMA.

Other research tells us that MDMA can produce confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and severe anxiety. These problems can occur soon after taking MDMA or sometimes days or weeks after taking the drug. In addition, chronic users of MDMA perform more poorly than nonusers on certain types of cognitive or memory tasks, although some of these effects may be due to the use of other drugs in combination with MDMA. Research in animals also indicates that MDMA can be harmful to the brain; one study in nonhuman primates showed that exposure to MDMA for only four days caused damage to serotonin nerve terminals that was still evident six to seven years later. The evidence also suggests that MDMA is addictive in almost 50 per cent of people who try it.

In the end MDMA is like all other drugs, any positive effects are manufactured, unreal, and short term. Additionally, you still have to deal with the drug’s side-effects long after the initial usage.

MDMA is certainly no love potion. As far as that goes, there is still no substitute for Barry White playing in the background and a genuine interest in discovering another person.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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