MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine is a fast acting, non-addictive drug with relatively few side effects. MDMA is better known as the street drug ecstasy but the two drugs are not identical. Ecstasy is known for its ability to invoke euphoria, empathy and love and is used recreationally by people because of these reactions. Ecstasy is often made with a multitude of chemicals and combined in a pill. More often than not, ecstasy tablets do not contain any MDMA.
Dr Ralph Metnzer dubbed MDMA an empathogen, a drug that encourages empathy. Users report feelings of empathetic understanding, profound feelings of ease, calmness, loving and meditative. These effects can be invaluable in psychotherapy where sensitive, negative and painful memories are explored.
MDMA therapy is a controversial topic that is often viewed with criticism. MDMA therapy has been found to be conducted by underground therapists who illegally use the drug with a patients approval with other counseling. One organization that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to use MDMA is the Mulidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS.
MAPS is a non-government organization that has a primary function of supporting scientists who are interested in pursing research into psychological and physiological benefits of psychedelic drugs. MAPS was founded in 1986 and has undertaken significant amounts of studies into the use of MDMA as a tool for mental health concerns including post traumatic stress disorder.
MDMA assisted psychotherapy is defined as the use of the drug MDMA in a limited number of times with significant psychotherapy, or psychologist assisted counselling. Therapy has only been trialed on difficult, debilitating and hard to treat conditions. Small doses of MDMA are given to patients in a clinical setting a few times to catalyze the therapeutic process.
MDMA doses last approximately 4 hours during which time a surge of serotonin and dopamine occurs. These are loosely known as the pleasure and happiness chemicals in the brain. Oxytocin which is the chemical messenger associated with trust and bonding are also increased. The amygdala or fear center of the main is subdued along with adrenaline and stress responses. These changes result in a person feeling calm, happy, relaxed, empathetic and open which are particularly positive for people who suffer from anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder or grief.
MDMA has been found to trigger the recall of emotionally charged memories and enable people to talk about topics they would otherwise avoid, such as painful or traumatic memories. Depression, anxiety and feelings of suffering dissapear. The burden of trauma and stress is gone. MDMA patients stay calm, centered and can speak clearly about feelings, memories, hopes and dreams that they could not speak about before.
MDMA researchers and advocates believe that the drug can grant access to traumatic emotional events. This access can advance the healing and people can begin on their road to recovery. This is particularly important for those who have been the victim of rape, sexual assault or violent crime and the memories can restrict their lives, ruin relationships and cause people long-lasting pain. Interestingly, MDMA has also been found to cut physical pain, even chronic pain.
MDMA patients reveal that the therapeutic benefits of the therapy have been life changing. Studies have shown that there are significant changes to peoples behaviour and attitudes towards themselves. Individuals have reported a loss in interest of being hurtful, self-harming, they forgive themselves and accept their personal failings. MDMA allows people to respond to their emotions with trust and understanding.
People who have undetaken MDMA therapy believe they can connect more deeply on an emotional level with other people and themselves. Traumatic experiences that are overwhelming are not so scary anymore and some patients have reported that they feel they are beyond the past and safe now.
MDMA therapy is a new and alternative method of psychotherapy that has produced some impressive results. However, as the research is still only very new, there is a requirement for more significant clinical trials to occur.
Concerns from both the community, law makers and scientists have come to light around this type of therapy. Specifically, the issue of the drug comes into play. MDMA is a relatively new substance with a history that is peppered with stories of overdoses, brain damage and seratonin depletion. Accordingly, MDMA should only be used in a supervised, controlled environment by approved persons. MDMA that is sold on the street has many risks associated with the use and should never be used as the health implications are serious. The drug should also not be used for extended periods as the dangers to a persons health are as yet unknown. The drug may also cause people to experience sleep disorders, anxiety and hostility after a dose and should be supervised until these affects are resolved.
As with any scientific study, more research, more trials and more reports on the topic are necessary before any the therapy can become mainstream.
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