Study: MDMA Prompts ‘Robust’ Increase in Connectedness, More Meaningful Interaction

Subjects rated their feelings of connectedness during conversations with a partner.

Club kids, ravers and lovers of party drugs have attested to the power of MDMA (also known as ecstasy or molly) for decades, namely that it breaks down the social barriers and helps people to be more open and accepting of those around them. 

Now, as researchers continue looking at the MDMA as a potential psychotherapy tool, a new study affirms that the drug boosts feelings of connectedness. Researchers suggest that this finding could be extremely useful as it pertains to MDMA-assisted therapy.

Published in the journal Nature, the study’s findings “demonstrate an important new dimension of the pro-social effects of MDMA,” according to researchers. The study was small, with only 18 participants who were either dosed with MDMA or a placebo and asked to chat with a stranger. 

Researchers confirmed that MDMA “led to robust increase in feelings of connection” among participants socializing in the controlled setting.

Observing the Social Effects of MDMA

Researchers admit that the effects of MDMA promoting sociability and connectedness with others are well known, given the recreational popularity of MDMA and its effectiveness in therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Though, they state that researchers still have a limited understanding of how it, and other psychoactive drugs, affect social processes.

Researchers gave participants either 100 mg of MDMA or a placebo in randomized order under double-blind conditions. At the time of the expected peak, participants then engaged in a semi-structured conversation, where mood, cardiovascular and hormone levels were obtained. Most participants were in their 20s (all aged 18-35 years old), reported low-to-moderate drug use and had to have used MDMA at least once in their lives.

During the 45-minute conversations, participants were provided with small talk topics to discuss with their partner, questions like “What is your favorite holiday?” They were presented with a different set of eight questions every 15 minutes, and participants and their partners were instructed to engage in natural conversation while using the topics as prompts. If either participant didn’t want to discuss a specific topic, they could skip it. Conversations were also taped.

Measuring MDMA’s Potential for Greater Connection

Researchers found that MDMA “significantly increased ratings of liking the conversation partner and finding the conversation more enjoyable and meaningful.” MDMA also showed a trend of creating greater connection with the partner compared to placebo.

During the follow up a week later, participants reported finding the conversation after MDMA to be more meaningful that the conversation after the placebo. Participants also rated their MDMA partners as being significantly more physically attractive and warm compared to the placebo partners.

There are still questions around the specific mechanisms that create these results, though. MDMA releases oxytocin, which affects serotonin receptors, though many of the oxytocin levels were below detectable limits, making it challenging to draw finite conclusions.

“It’s likely that both something in the serotonin system independent of oxytocin, and oxytocin itself, contribute,” co-author Harriet de Wit told Medscape.

Researchers conclude that, “these findings illustrate a novel method for assessing the effects of drugs on social connection,” in that MDMA produces “strong feelings of connectedness with a stranger after a brief conversation.” They also highlight that these feelings were still present one week after having the conversations. 

MDMA, Connectedness and Therapeutic Potential

They also note the implications the results have for MDMA-assisted therapy. For one, they raise the possibility that certain therapeutic effects are the result of enhanced connectedness between the patient and the therapist. “This feeling of connectedness could help patients feel safe and trusting, thereby facilitating deeper emotional exploration,” authors note.

This construct of connectedness could be valuable in designing MDMA-assisted protocols, researchers say. Researchers also question whether drugs other than MDMA, that can similarly help to facilitate the quality of the patient-therapist connection, could facilitate psychotherapy. 

“More broadly, understanding the behavioral processes by which MDMA enhances social interactions is important to help therapists optimize the beneficial effects of the drug,” researchers state.

1 comment
  1. It would have been nice for HT to also mention that the same researchers had a duplicate study of the MDMA study where they gave a low dose (20mg) of Methamphetamine (MA) to a few people and that they found (quoting the Nature article):
    “Compared to placebo, both MDMA and MA increased feelings of connection with the conversation partners. Both MDMA and MA increased Oxytocin levels, but oxytocin levels were correlated with feeling closer to the partner only after MDMA.”
    Further quoting the Nature article:
    “Surprisingly, we found similar increases in ratings of closeness and connection to conversation partners, as well as enjoyment of the conversation after MA. This finding was contrary to our expectation that feelings of connectedness during an interpersonal encounter would be specific to MDMA. Although stimulants such as d-amphetamine and methamphetamine have been found to increase self-ratings of feeling social and talkative40, to increase the amount of talking, and to improve ability to detect emotions in others18, prototypic stimulants are not typically thought to promote feelings of closeness and connection. Until now, no studies have examined this social effect of drugs, and the present findings suggest that MA may share this effect with MDMA. Indeed, this finding raises questions about the nature of closeness and connection.”

    So Methamphetamine is not just a violent psychosis inducing addictive drug, people can be ‘nice’ under its influence. In fact this is why its Schedule 2 in the USA and prescribed to people with ADHD among other things. No doubt the DEA would love to place Amphetamine & Methamphetamine on Schedule 1, but the it’s too late because it’s already been shown to have medicinal qualities – something which Schedule 1 substances are not ‘allowed’ to have.
    Note that MDMA can also induce psychosis and that every substance (& plant) in Schedule 1 has been shown to have medical uses – some being used in other countries around the world for their medical properties!?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts