New research has shown that MDMA may be an effective treatment for social anxiety in autistic adults. Results of the first study to research MDMA as a therapy for adults on the autism spectrum were published in the journal Psychopharmacology last week.
Dr. Lisa Jerome, one of the researchers conducting the study, said that MDMA could be part of an effective treatment to help reduce the severe social anxiety often experienced by autistic adults.
“These findings show that MDMA and psychotherapy can help people, maybe by giving people a whole new set of experiences with social interactions,” said Dr. Jerome. “MDMA isn’t giving people something they didn’t have already, it’s helping them use what they had all along.”
In the study, researchers gave 12 autistic adults MDMA or placebo during two day-long therapy sessions. Additional preparatory sessions without medication were also included in the study. Researchers saw a significant improvement in social anxiety and less avoidance of social interaction by the group that was given MDMA. The study also found that limited doses of MDMA could be used safely in clinical settings and was tolerated well by autistic adults.
Participants Report Less Social Anxiety
The study participants who were given MDMA reported an improvement in their quality of life.
“Being a participant in the study affected me in many ways,” said one participant. “My self-esteem increased, my social anxiety decreased, love flooded in, my heart healed, and I’m more resilient.”
Two participants reported being able to start dating for the first time after treatment with MDMA. One of them said the therapy helped with being socially aware.
“I have been able to sustain flirtatious conversations for a longer time,” the participant said. “In these conversations, I realized communication is not just about talking. Now, I take time to notice my emotions and others’ emotions before talking.”
Overall, participants improved social interactions with friends, family, and therapists and some became more comfortable discussing issues such as gender identity.
More Research Needed
Dr. Alicia Danforth, who conducted the research as part of her dissertation, said that more research into MDMA as a therapy for autistic adults was needed
“We are looking forward to sharing what we learned with other researchers and communities who are committed to improving the quality of care for autistic adults and other populations who struggle with social anxiety,” says Danforth.
Danforth also said that the results show that MDMA could potentially become an accepted therapy for autism.
“We hope that the good safety profile and encouraging reduction in social anxiety symptoms will inspire funding for new and larger studies,” Danforth said. “It remains to be seen how the mainstream autism science community will respond to the new data.”
But until that time, Danforth cautioned against self-medicating with MDMA and urged patients to “wait until this type of therapy is more widely available in controlled settings with qualified therapists.”
Danforth also offered a potential alternative.
“In the meantime, we saw an indication that mindfulness-based therapy can also improve social anxiety symptoms,” she said. “That has certainly been the case in my private practice, where I also have to wait patiently until I can provide MDMA-assisted therapy outside of a clinical trial.”