Scholars say they are closing in on how ecstasy, 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), produces feelings of euphoria in users and in a new paper say that it might be useful in the treatment of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. A small study using MDMA as an adjunct to psychotherapy reported positive preliminary results.
The limitation of the new paper; these were brain images and done for a television show a year and a half before it was in a journal.
Due to its nature as a stimulant that can produce hallucinations, Ecstasy has been a popular recreational drug since the 1980s, but little is known about which areas of the brain it affects. The new study says it is the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on resting subjects under its influence. Twenty-five volunteers underwent brain scans on two occasions, one after taking the drug and one after taking a placebo, without knowing which they had been given.
The images showed MDMA decreases activity in the limbic system – a set of structures involved in emotional responses. These effects were stronger in subjects who reported stronger subjective experiences, suggesting that they are related. Communication between the medial temporal lobe and medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in emotional control, was reduced. This effect, and the drop in activity in the limbic system, are opposite to patterns seen in patients who suffer from anxiety.
MDMA also increased communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus. Studies on patients with post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) have found a reduction in communication between these areas.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, who performed the research, said, “We found that MDMA caused reduced blood flow in regions of the brain linked to emotion and memory. These effects may be related to the feelings of euphoria that people experience on the drug.”
Project leader David Nutt, the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, added, “The findings suggest possible clinical uses of MDMA in treating anxiety and PTSD, but we need to be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a study in healthy volunteers. We would have to do studies in patients to see if we find the same effects.”
As part of the Imperial study, the volunteers were asked to recall their favorite and worst memories while inside the scanner. They rated their favorite memories as more vivid, emotionally intense and positive after MDMA than placebo, and they rated their worst memories less negatively. This was reflected in the way that parts of the brain were activated more or less strongly under MDMA. Those results were published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Carhart-Harris said, “In healthy volunteers, MDMA seems to lessen the impact of painful memories. This fits with the idea that it could help patients with PTSD revisit their traumatic experiences in psychotherapy without being overwhelmed by negative emotions, but we need to do studies in PTSD patients to see if the drug affects them in the same way.”
Citation: R.L. Carhart-Harris et al., ‘The Effects of Acutely Administered 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine on Spontaneous Brain Function in Healthy Volunteers Measured with Arterial Spin Labelling and Blood Oxygen Level-Dependent Resting-State Functional Connectivity.’ Biological Psychiatry, 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.12.015
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Suggestion: The EM Drive Is Getting The Appropriate Level Of Attention From The Science Community
- Animal Sex Is Spicier Than We Thought
- Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise This Century? That's Not A Consensus
- What If We Can 'Pre-Diagnose' Autism In Babies?
- Will Aspartame Critics Now Be Less Bitter?
- Bees: Activists Remain Silent While This Pollinator Killer Decimates Millions
- Bang! Meet The Highest-Energy Hadron Collision Ever Imaged!
- "With Tesla's home and office Powerwalls and the utility scale Powerpacks are fully built in Europe..."
- "2,000 contributors is not a crowd? ..."
- "Contrary to what you have written above, the SEC is not crowdsourced. See the Stanford Report:..."
- "Boob-ayCongratulations. You have made in into a select list of imbeciles: those who cannot read..."
- "Quite aside from the fact that your arithmetic is horrid, your chemistry is even worse. When a..."
- Excessive or inadequate? Confusion about medication is common
- Breast cancer in young women is rarer than media make it seem
- GE crops could save the environment, if Organic advocates let them
- No excuses to be against science now: Monsanto patent expires
- The Pendulum Swings: Prescribing Hormone Replacement Therapy 13 Years After the Women’s Health Initiative Study
- The search for new blood donors ends at the living – but why?
- How not to convince vaccine skeptics
- Even a little weekly physical activity goes a long way for seniors
- Low levels of endocrine disruptors in the environment may cause sex reversal in female frogs
- Get up for your heart health and move for your waistline
- As biodiversity declines on corn farms, pest problems grow