The FDA recently approved a novel study that will examine whether the drug ecstasy could be of benefit to autistic adults suffering from social anxiety.
Ecstasy, known scientifically as N-methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDMA) has a reputation as a raver’s drug of choice and, in 1985, was classified as a Schedule I controlled substance — a category reserved for dangerous drugs with no medical value.
The drug, however, has been of interest to researchers who believe it could aid in psychotherapy.
Known for its “empathogenic effects,” MDMA has been shown to reduce the fear of emotional harm while promoting feelings of social connection. MDMA also produces a sense of euphoria and mild hallucinations.
Although “street ecstasy” often contains dangerous contaminants, the researchers believe using pure MDMA in a controlled setting could help certain patients.
“The study could start enrolling subjects in several months,” said Brad Burge, the communications director at Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
“However, it could be six months or more depending on how long the [Institutional Review Board] review process takes, how long it takes to set up the study site at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center/Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, how long it takes to recruit subjects, and other factors. I estimate it will be four to eight months.”
The study would investigate the safety and therapeutic potential of MDMA-assisted therapy for treating social anxiety in 12 autistic adults.
“This study will be the first time MDMA-assisted therapy has been explored in a clinical trial for social anxiety, and the first time it’s been explored to help adults on the autism spectrum,” Burge said.
“The many case reports collected by study co-investigator Alicia Danforth in her recently submitted doctoral dissertation indicate that it is likely to provide at least some benefit.”
“Existing research also shows that MDMA is safe enough for use in clinical research,” he added. “It’s a promising area of research, and indicates a real shift in how the public sees MDMA and other psychedelics.”
The FDA concluded that the study was “reasonably safe to proceed as currently written,” but also offered some safety recommendations.
A similar study found that MDMA could help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
One rape survivor reported that the drug helped her cope with trauma by allowing her to “control where I was thinking and going, and look at things differently.”