Since its creation in the 1900’s, MDMA has been a hot-button topic in the United States. What started out as a possible therapeutic tool, turned into a wildly abused party drug, has now been re-approached for its therapeutic benefits. However, how much is too much, what does it do to the brain, and can it really help people with mental disorders?
A Quick History
In 1912, pharmaceutical company Merck created MDMA as a chemical intermediate synthesis, aka, it was just something that would be used to make other things. It was pretty much put on a shelf until the 1950’s when the US Army started using it in testing.
Then, in 1979, a group of researchers started to experiment with the drug in therapeutic standards when they realized the empathetic side effects it had when administered. They thought it could be helpful in creating a state of openness that would encourage more rapid therapeutic change.
After this, it exploded onto the streets, where it became the third biggest party drug on the markets besides alcohol and cocaine. Over time, as more and more illegal manufacturers got their hands on it, it became more and more impure, with countless other chemicals such as amphetamines, caffeine, dextromethorphan, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, ketamine, etc. However, for the sake of this article, we will discuss what pure MDMA Ecstasy does to the brain.
These days, MDMA can be ingested orally or anally, snorted, and injected. When the drug is pure, users report feelings of –
- Decreased fear
- Lack of separation
- Abandonment of aggression
It is interesting in its chemical makeup because it reacts much like a combination of amphetamines and hallucinogens. Although it does not create hallucinations, many people report having heightened senses during their high. The amphetamine aspect consists of the increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and blood pressure increase.
Studies have been performed to decide whether or not MDMA is as addictive as cocaine, and evidence so far points to that fact that it is not. While animals in labs will choose to be administered MDMA, as they would for Cocaine, correlation to humans varies as many people only use it in certain environments and situations such as concerts or rave parties.
In the Brain
MDMA increases Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin levels in the brain. So many studies are currently being performed on its potential therapeutic value because of the way that MDMA interacts with serotonin levels.
For example, SSRIs such as Prozac, which are aimed at anti-depression, must have a certain level of serotonin in the brain before the can have any effect, in other words, they don’t release serotonin, they rely on it. MDMA, on the other hand, actively dumps high levels of serotonin into the receptors, which creates those feelings of compassion and euphoria.
Studies have shown that very small amounts, taken very rarely, of use of pure MDMA, result in no permanent brain malfunctions. However, when taken often and in large amounts, there can be serious mental side effects such as:
- Sleep Disturbances
- Appetite Imbalances
- Impaired Memory
The most dangerous thing about MDMA is that most people don’t take it alone. Many to most users report using it in conjunction with alcohol, cocaine, hallucinogens, sedatives, and marijuana. Any of the side effects of these other drugs, in combination with those from MDMA, can result in extremely dangerous temperatures and side effects of the heart and nervous system.
To the Body
In large amounts, MDMA can actually amplify it’s amphetamine effects, creating a clenched jaw, jitters, dry mouth, appetite suppression, and nausea. At high levels, the body temperature can increase to dangerous levels, as well as the heart rate and blood pressure. This is why many people often dehydrate and die during rave concerts, as they are usually overheated and too high to notice.
MDMA as a Therapeutic Tool
While research is still largely underway, the jury is still out on whether MDMA can be considered a useful therapeutic tool when professionally administered.
One line of thought is that the overactive increase of serotonin can deplete the brain’s natural receptors, and can often inhibit them from making more, resulting in chronic depression. However, this data has only been found in animals who have been given very high doses over an extended period of time.
However, many people have begun using MDMA as an experimental treatment in controlled environments, and the data shows very positively, especially for soldiers with PTSD. According to the Washington Post, the findings have been so positive, that even the FDA has deemed it to be “A breakthrough therapy”.
“In clinical trials with 107 patients closely monitored by the FDA, 61 percent reported major reductions in symptoms — to the point where they no longer fit the criteria for PTSD. Follow-up studies a year later found 67 percent no longer had PTSD.” – Evidence released by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and the FDA
Now mind you, these reports were closely monitored, with pure MDMA, in a closed environments, and administered by complete professionals. These soldiers went through three, 8-hour therapy sessions during their experimental treatment, and these were the results.
We are in no way condoning the use of MDMA or other research chemicals for people who are abusing or illegally taking these drugs.
So Many Questions
So while the verdict is still out on whether or not MDMA can create long-lasting effects on the brain, all of the data that we have available to us doesn’t really take into consideration the fact that many people that are using it recreationally on the street are mixing it with other drugs, what sort of situations they might be in, what kind of physical and mental condition they might be in, or what else is in mixed into the pill they are ingesting as a cutting agent.
However, there are resounding amounts of data out there, from those closed, professional studies that do show the benefits that MDMA can have when administered professionally and therapeutically.