Study Analyzes Evidence of Benefits from Using MDMA with Psilocybin, LSD

Co-using the trio of substances led some study participants to experience increased feelings of compassion, love, and gratitude.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports found evidence that MDMA can be a beneficial treatment for specific mental health-related conditions.

The study consisted of eight researchers from the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine in New York, as well as the Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, and its aptly titled “Co-use of MDMA with psilocybin/LSD may buffer against challenging experiences and enhance positive experiences.”

On social media, the Centre for Psychedelic Research announced the publication of the study with a brief summary. “What happens when you combine MDMA with LSD/psilocybin? Our new work with @RickZeifman @RCarhartHarris @KettnerHannes etc is out! 🍄,” the social media account wrote. “The combination reduces negative experiences (such as fear) whilst increasing positive ones (such as gratitude & love)!”

Researchers used a sample pool of 698 individuals, where 342 of which received LSD, 356 received psilocybin, and only 27 co-used psilocybin/LSD and MDMA. They measured participants’ “challenging experiences” through a Challenging Experiences Questionnaire, while positive experiences were recorded through a Mystical Experience Questionnaire, as well as “single-item measures of self-compassion, compassion, love, and gratitude.”

In the study abstract, researchers explained more about the effects that co-using both substances had on participants. “Relative to psilocybin/LSD alone, co-use of psilocybin/LSD with a self-reported low (but not medium–high) dose of MDMA was associated with significantly less intense total challenging experiences, grief, and fear, as well as increased self-compassion, love, and gratitude,” researchers wrote.

Participants who co-used substances significantly associated MDMA with feelings of conscientiousness and openness. “Co-use of 3,4-Methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA) with psilocybin/LSD anecdotally reduces challenging experiences and enhances positive experiences associated with psilocybin/LSD,” researchers explained.

The various dosage that participants received appeared to yield different results. Participants who received low doses of MDMA used with psilocybin/LSD experienced “significantly lower levels of grief and fear.” However, levels of grief and fear increased with medium and higher doses of MDMA.

Also, those who co-used MDMA with psilocybin/LSD did not experience a significant difference between feelings of compassion or “mystical-type experiences,” but researchers did observe an interesting effect experienced by low-dose MDMA participants. “However, it is noteworthy that (compared with LSD/psilocybin alone) co-use of low dose MDMA was associated with relatively higher mean scores for compassion and relatively lower mean scores for total mystical-type experience,” they continued.

The study identified the therapeutic potential of treating “psychiatric disorders and mental health concerns” with these substances but explained that it’s difficult to properly study the various effects a substance can have on a single individual. “A primary concern associated with classic psychedelics relates to their alteration of consciousness, which can range from highly positive ‘peak’ experiences to psychologically challenging experiences (often referred to as “bad trips”), such as grief, paranoia, and fear,” the study stated.

Previous studies, both those in controlled and uncontrolled environments, have encountered numerous challenges. A 2021 study entitled “Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial” provided participants with major depressive disorder two doses of psilocybin alongside psychotherapy, 65% said the psychedelic experience was “one of the five most challenging experiences in their life,” and 92% said they felt like crying. Additionally, 79% said they felt sadness, 56% said they felt anxiousness, 77% experienced emotional or physical suffering, 31% felt strong or extreme fear, and 22% said the entire experience “was characterized by anxiety or unpleasant psychological struggle.”

Researchers also pointed out that while some “challenging experiences” lead to beneficial or therapeutic experiences, using these substances can also potentially yield more distressing experiences that could require medical attention. “For instance, among individuals with lifetime use of a classic psychedelic, 8.9% of individuals reported experiencing functional impairment for longer than one day, and 2.6% of individuals reported seeking medical or psychological assistance, following a challenging psychedelic experience,” researchers explained. “There are also reports of the emergence of psychiatric diagnoses, suicidality, and harm to self and others during and after challenging psychedelic experiences.”

As a result, the possibility of these more challenging experiences are the source of reluctance from both health care providers and curious consumers.

These facts only continue to bolster the argument that more research is necessary, with other studies having found evidence that also show benefits of co-using substances. “Co-use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) with psilocybin (referred to as ‘hippy flipping’) and LSD (referred to as ‘candy flipping’) is one method that is reportedly used to reduce challenging experiences and enhance positive experiences,” researchers pointed out in reference to two different studies in 2001 and 2012. 

Additionally, other studies conducted over the past 10-20 years have also found similar benefits. “MDMA, a potent serotonergic entactogen/empathogen, induces the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin; dampens amygdala blood flow [2015]; decreases feelings of fear and sadness [2018, 2006]; and may increase positive feelings [2015], including love [2010], compassion [2018], and self-compassion [2015, 2018],” researchers wrote.

This most recent analysis of co-using MDMA included work from numerous researchers, including Professor Robin Carhart-Harris, who recently also worked on a different study (one that has not yet been peer reviewed) that illuminated the antidepressant effects of psilocybin.

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