MDMA: Empathogen or Love Potion?
Ecstasy produces loving feelings and alters perception of others
15 December 2010, MDMA or ‘ecstasy’ increases feelings of empathy and social connection. These ‘empathogenic’ effects suggest that MDMA might be useful to enhance the psychotherapy of people who struggle to feel connected to others, as may occur in association with autism, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder.
However, these effects have been difficult to measure objectively, and there has been limited research in humans. Now, University of Chicago researchers, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are reporting their new findings in healthy volunteers in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.
Dr. Gillinder Bedi, author, explained: “We found that MDMA produced friendliness, playfulness, and loving feelings, even when it was administered to people in a laboratory with little social contact. We also found that MDMA reduced volunteers' capacity to recognize facial expressions of fear in other people, an effect that may be involved in the increased sociability said to be produced by MDMA.”
These data suggest that MDMA produces effects that make others seem more attractive and friendly, which may serve as a significant motivator in its use as a recreational drug. Importantly, it also makes others appear less threatening, which could increase users’ social risk-taking.
“Within the context of treatment, these effects may promote intimacy among people who have difficulty feeling close to others,” observed Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “However, MDMA distorts one’s perception of others rather than producing true empathy. Thus, MDMA may cause problems if it leads people to misinterpret the emotional state and perhaps intentions of others.”
Certainly, further research in controlled settings is necessary before MDMA could be considered for use as a psychotherapy treatment. But, these findings also underscore the need to understand more about the ways in which different drugs affect social experiences, given that abused drugs are so commonly used in social settings.
# # #
Notes to Editors:
The article is “Is Ecstasy an “Empathogen”? Effects of ±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine on Prosocial Feelings and Identification of Emotional States in Others” by Gillinder Bedi, David Hyman, and Harriet de Wit. The authors are affiliated with the Human Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. Bedi is also with the Division on Substance Abuse, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, New York. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Number 12 (December 15, 2010), published by Elsevier.
The authors’ disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.
John H. Krystal, M.D. is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available at http://journals.elsevierhealth.com/webfiles/images/journals/bps/Biological-Psychiatry-Editorial-Disclosures-7-22-10.pdf.
Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Chris J. Pfister at email@example.com to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.
About Biological Psychiatry
This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length reports of novel results, commentaries, case studies of unusual significance, and correspondence judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise reviews and editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.
Biological Psychiatry (www.sobp.org/journal) is ranked 4th out of 117 Psychiatry titles and 13th out of 230 Neurosciences titles in the 2009 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2009 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry has increased to 8.926.
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier’s online solutions include ScienceDirect, Scopus, Reaxys, ClinicalKey and Mosby’s Suite, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite and MEDai’s Pinpoint Review, which help research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.
A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc, a world leading provider of professional information solutions. The group employs more than 30,000 people, including more than 15,000 in North America. Reed Elsevier Group plc is owned equally by two parent companies, Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. Their shares are traded on the London, Amsterdam and New York Stock Exchanges using the following ticker symbols: London: REL; Amsterdam: REN; New York: RUK and ENL.
Chris J. Pfister
Strategic Marketing Manager - Elsevier