Warning: Ecstasy Can Result in Hook-Ups With Creepy, Scary People

By Dirk Hanson 04/14/11

An inability to accurately judge character and emotions may be the cause of Ecstasy's "empathy effect."

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Even as it spawns sweaty passionate madness at clubs and raves across the land, one of the favorite things about taking MDMA for many people—and that includes some scientists and psychologists—is the drug's ability to act as an “empathogen” by promoting a sense of empathy and intimate closeness between peope. To test this hypothesis, Research psychiatrist Bill Yates at Brain Posts analyzed a recent study in Biological Psychiatry that recruited healthy, ecstasy-using volunteers and gave them either high dose MDMA, low dose MDMA, high dose MDMA with methedrine, or methedrine alone. After running the recruits through a battery of psychological tests focusing on mood states and facial emotions, they reported the following results: Low dose MDMA wasn’t popular with anybody--most subjects who were given this dosage decribed their experience as "sad" and "lonely."  Methedrine alone—and here’s a real surprise for anyone who’s tried to hold a conversation with a tweaker—increased test ratings of “sociability,” which is a feeling at least dimly related to empathy. High dosages of MDMA and meth together increased test ratings for terms like “playful.” Only high dose MDMA by itself produced feelings described as “loving” and “friendly.” However, high dose MDMA also greatly reduced the volunteers’ ability to accurately recognize angry faces. Scientists say that the “prosocial cognition” exhibited by X users may be the result of their reduced ability to recognize negative or hostile emotions in others, rather than an insightful new recognition of positive feelings towards others. (In other words, the drug greatly dulls your sense of judgement.)  The danger is that for many people MDMA elevates social risk-taking--which may explain why you hooked up last week with that odd, bow-tied guy sporting a bolero who goosed you on your way to the bathroom.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]