The Potential Dangers of Using MDMA for Psychotherapy

This review (2014) examines both the negative and positive aspects of using MDMA for psychotherapy, with specific regard to its neurohormonal profile, the effects of serotonergic depletion, and neurotoxicity of repeated usage. The most critical issues are related to the release of difficult feelings and memories and the lack of control thereof due to heightened environmental sensitivity, as well as the risk that negative mood states predominating the phase of neurochemical recovery amongst certain individuals.

Abstract

Introduction: MDMA has properties that may make it attractive for psychotherapy, although many of its effects are potentially problematic. These contrasting effects will be critically reviewed in order to assess whether MDMA could be safe for clinical usage. Early studies from the 1980s noted that MDMA was an entactogen, engendering feelings of love and warmth. However, negative experiences can also occur with MDMA since it is not selective in the thoughts or emotions it releases. This unpredictability in the psychological material released is similar to another serotonergic drug, LSD. Acute MDMA has powerful neurohormonal effects, increasing cortisol, oxytocin, testosterone, and other hormone levels. The release of oxytocin may facilitate psychotherapy, whereas cortisol may increase stress and be counterproductive. MDMA administration is followed by a period of neurochemical recovery, when low serotonin levels are often accompanied by lethargy and depression. Regular usage can also lead to serotonergic neurotoxicity, memory problems, and other psychobiological problems.

Discussion: Proponents of MDMA-assisted therapy state that it should only be used for reactive disorders (such as PTSD) since it can exacerbate distress in those with a prior psychiatric history. Overall, many issues need to be considered when debating the relative benefits and dangers of using MDMA for psychotherapy.”

Author: Andrew C. Parrott

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