A study found that those on MDMA were far more open and forthcoming at cooperating with others, they weren’t naïve or duped.
Nicknamed the “hug drug”, MDMA—better known as ecstasy—fueled the ’90s club scene across New York, Ibiza, London, and other party capitals, helping define a decade’s worth of rave culture. But despite its prevalence, scientists don’t really understand how the illegal substance works.
It’s long been understood that MDMA can help with treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but how or why remains a mystery. So, when a team of researchers at a university in the UK administered 100mg of MDMA to a group of men it was big news when they discovered it had an impact on the participants’ decision-making abilities.
Dividing the participants up into a control group and those to be given MDMA, researchers asked the participants to play a game, marking each other for being trustworthy or untrustworthy. While those on MDMA were far more open and forthcoming at cooperating with their opponents, they weren’t naïve or duped by them.
Another development in understanding how MDMA changes our social interactions: just last month, the drug made headlines when a group of scientists gave it to octopuses, making the arthropods more touchy feely. “They’re basically hugging the [cage] and exposing parts of their body that they don’t normally expose to another octopus,” Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the researchers behind the study, told The Guardian.
In another interview with the Scientific American, Dölen remarked it was a step forward in using MDMA for clinical reasons: “These findings could help scientists better understand social behavior, as well as give clues about possible treatments for serotonin-related human conditions like schizophrenia and PTSD.”
Just before the United States banned the substance in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a few dozen psychotherapists in the US used it in psychotherapy because of its benign, feeling-enhancing, and nonhallucinatory properties.
By 1985, when the ban was passed thanks to an emergency action, The New York Times reported that despite the drug’s new criminal status, research into its potential medicinal benefits would remain underway: “Ecstasy, whose scientific name is 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, will continue to undergo tests while the emergency ban remains in effect for one year. Some psychotherapists maintain that the drug creates a feeling of well-being in patients, making them more receptive to treatment.
But the race to uncover the drug’s hidden potential has been expedited by serval recent scientific revelations. In August last year, the FDA granted MDMA “breakthrough therapy” status in the treatment of PTSD. The new classification acknowledges that MDMA has the potential to treat life-threatening mental health conditions, and helps the FDA prioritize when and how they develop it for clinical use.