Can MDMA be used as medicine or therapy?

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In short, yes. Before MDMA became popular at festivals, concerts, clubs and raves, it was indeed utilized for therapeutic purposes among mental health practitioners. MDMA-assisted therapy combines traditional psychotherapy with the administration of MDMA.1

Because of MDMA’s unique effect of reducing fear and enhancing interpersonal trust, it can be especially helpful in healing psychological and emotional damage from traumas, helping the terminally ill face death, and other difficult-to-treat psychological conditions.2 MDMA has reportedly been used with over 1,000 human subjects in clinical trials without a single serious adverse event.3

When the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sought to completely prohibit MDMA in the 1980s, the medical community protested and the DEA’s own administrative law judge ruled that MDMA should not be placed in Schedule I. However, the DEA ignored this ruling and medical research was shut down for almost two decades.

Over the past decade, however, there has been a resurgence in research evaluating MDMA’s therapeutic benefits, especially regarding treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A seminal study published in 2011 found that patients who received MDMA-assisted psychotherapy reported substantial reductions in the severity of their PTSD symptoms.4 These findings have been replicated by other studies, and additional research is underway in the U.S., Canada, and Israel and soon to begin in the U.K. and Australia.5,6

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  1. R. Doblin, “A clinical plan for MDMA (Ecstasy) in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): partnering with the FDA,” J. Psychoactive Drugs, 34 (2002):185-94.
  2. Ben Sessa and David Nutt, "Making a medicine out of MDMA," The British Journal of Psychiatry 206, no. 1 (2015): 4-6.
  3. Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, http://www.mdmaptsd.org.
  4. M. C. Mithoefer et al., "The safety and efficacy of {+/-}3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder: the first randomized controlled pilot study," J Psychopharmacol 25, no. 4 (2011).
  5. P. Oehen et al., "A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (+/- 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)," J Psychopharmacol 27, no. 1 (2013): 40-52; C. M. White, "3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine's (MDMA's) Impact on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder," Ann Pharmacother 48, no. 7 (2014): 908-15; M. C. Mithoefer et al., "Durability of improvement in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and absence of harmful effects or drug dependency after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy: a prospective long-term follow-up study," J Psychopharmacol 27, no. 1 (2013): 28-39.
  6. “A Randomized, Triple-Blind, Phase 2 Pilot Study Comparing 3 Different Doses of MDMA in Conjunction with Manualized Psychotherapy in 24 Veterans, Firefighters, and Police Officers with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant PTSD”, 2012, http://www.maps.org/research/mdma/MP8_amend4_final_7Feb2012web.pdf.

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Shelley's Story

Shelley’s Story

Shelley Goldsmith was 19 when she died after taking MDMA and going to a club in DC. Her mother, Dede Goldsmith, believes her death may have been preventable if drug education and harm reduction services were more widely available and accepted.

Learn more about Dede’s campaign and the work of DPA’s Music Fan program to promote compassionate, health-based responses to drug use at festivals, concerts and clubs.

Learn More