Mostly known as a ‘party drug,’ MDMA may also have use in therapy for PSTD, anxiety, eating disorders, and more.
The drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) is known for producing feelings of pleasure, emotional warmth, increased energy, and distorted sensory perception. MDMA is commonly thought of as a party drug and associated with venues like nightclubs.
MDMA is often called molly or ecstasy and is frequently taken in pill or capsule form.
MDMA is classed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance and is illegal in the United States. However, some researchers are studying ways that MDMA might be useful as a treatment for certain mental health conditions.
These treatment methods show promise but need further study and haven’t yet been approved. It’s possible that MDMA could be legal in certain medically approved situations in the future.
MDMA stands for methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine. Its chemical name is N-methyl-1-(3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl)propan-2-amine.
MDMA acts by increasing the levels of three major brain chemicals:
- Dopamine: Dopamine helps nerve cells send signals to one another and makes you feel good or happy when it’s released.
- Norepinephrine: Norepinephrine transmits nerve signals and helps to regulate functions, such as arousal, stress reactions, attention, and cognitive function.
- Serotonin: Serotonin carries nerve signals throughout your body. It’s involved in producing feelings of happiness, optimism, and joy.
As is common with unregulated drugs, MDMA available for purchase is sometimes combined, or “cut,” with other drugs. This
Reports of fentanyl being found in MDMA are increasing. Fentanyl can make drugs it’s mixed with, including MDMA, more dangerous. Often, people who purchase MDMA and other drugs are unaware those drugs have been cut with fentanyl.
How to recognize an emergency
MDMA is more likely to lead to a serious emergency, like an overdose, if it’s been cut with another drug. If someone is overdosing, it’s important to get them medical attention right away.
When you contact 911, always let them know what drugs the person took and how much. No one will get in trouble, and the information could be lifesaving.
Signs someone needs immediate medical attention include:
MDMA is currently illegal in the United States. Current regulations have classed MDMA as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This means that it’s thought to have a high potential to be abused and that it’s not legally considered to have health benefits.
As is the case with some other once-illegal substances, such as cannabis, researchers are currently studying the possibility that MDMA could have therapeutic uses. MDMA has been suggested as a treatment for:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- disordered eating
- alcohol addiction and dependency
- anxiety in people with a terminal illness
- social anxiety in autistic adults
- co-occurring PTSD and opioid dependency
When used in a therapeutic setting, MDMA may enhance many aspects of talk therapy. Repeated studies show that MDMA can make it easier for someone to approach therapy with vulnerability and an open mind. It may be able to help those dealing with trauma to feel safe and capable of breaking out of harmful thought patterns.
Getting involved in the future of medical MDMA
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for people with PTSD as a breakthrough therapy. There are ongoing clinical studies to test how well this treatment might work. You can find out more at clincialtrials.gov.
Make sure to always discuss clinical trials with your primary doctor and/or therapist before they begin.
However, there are still concerns about the safety of MDMA. Since MDMA is currently an illegal substance, many reports about its health effects are anecdotal, and study results are often controversial.
It’s important to note that recreational use is often much more frequent and higher in dose than therapeutic use. This may cause more severe side effects.
Short-term side effects of MDMA
Reported short-term health effects include:
- muscle cramping
- blurry vision
- a high body temperature
- teeth clenching
- an acne-like rash
Long-term side effects of MDMA
The full, long-term effects of MDMA on the brain aren’t known. However, because MDMA affects brain chemicals, some researchers think it could have lasting effects on areas, such as cognition and mood.
It’s possible that heavy MDMA use could lead to additional long-term health effects. These might include:
The current studies aren’t in agreement as to whether MDMA can cause addiction. However, some people do report forming addictive behaviors around it. Learn more about MDMA’s relationship with addiction here.
Some people who quit using MDMA report unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms typically last a few days, and can include:
MDMA is a drug that’s commonly thought of as a party drug and is known for producing feelings of pleasure, energy, and positive emotion, along with altered sensory perception. MDMA belongs to a class of chemicals called phenethylamines. Other drugs in this chemical group include methamphetamine and cathinone.
MDMA is illegal, and there are reports that it can have negative health effects. However, studies on these health effects are inconclusive.
Additionally, some researchers have suggested that MDMA might be useful as a treatment for some mental conditions, such as PTSD and disordered eating. Research is still ongoing.