Could MDMA One Day Be Used in Couples Therapy?

By May Wilkerson 05/05/15

MDMA has been used in the past to boost empathy and improve communication.

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MDMA, a drug known to elicit feelings of intimacy and love among users, could be a useful tool in couples therapy, according to new research.

In recent years, scientists have explored whether the psychoactive drug, known by recreational users as ecstasy, or Molly, could be used to treat various mental health disorders, like anxiety, or PTSD. A new study, published this week in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, suggests that it may help individuals be more introspective and open when it comes to working on their relationships.

In the study, researchers analyzed the effects of MDMA on a group of 35 people as they were asked to speak about their loved ones. They found that people under the influence of the drug were more emotionally open and introspective when talking about their relationships than when they were given a placebo.

"With MDMA, you get these really increased feelings of sociability and closeness with others," said one of the study’s authors, Matthew Kirkpatrick, a professor of preventative medicine at the University of Southern California. "When you're on MDMA, you tend to focus on positive social-emotional stimuli, and you're less reactive to negative emotional stimuli, such as fearful or angry faces."

The drug also helped participants be “more insightful and confident about their feelings,” said the study's lead author, Dr. Matthew Baggott, a data scientist and neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. "This seemed like a different, more unusual type of drug effect than simply being talkative and feeling good."

This isn’t be the first time MDMA has been tested as a means of resolving relationship woes. Decades ago, the drug was sometimes used in couples therapy to “boost empathy and improve emotional communication skills.”

"I suspect you would see that couples would rate each other as being more emotionally responsive, they would feel closer to one another and they would engage in longer conversations about deeper topics," said Kirkpatrick. "I think it could be quite useful for couples counseling."

While MDMA has been of increasing interest to psychologists in recent years, it may be years before it is approved for therapy. The substance is still classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that it's considered dangerous and with no medical value.

"There's a huge political component to MDMA," said Kirkpatrick. "Something needs to change politically where MDMA can be seen as a safe and viable therapy under the proper settings."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.