MDMA Could Be Key To Easing Anxiety In Autistic Adults

Photo by Wave Break Media.


by Aaron Kase

on April 15, 2015

A new study seeks to determine whether MDMA can be a useful tool in reducing symptoms in autistic adults who suffer from social anxiety.

The research, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, is the first to test MDMA on people with autism. Researchers will give small doses of the psychedelic substance to test subjects and monitor them for six to eight hours afterward.

“We try to optimize ‘set and setting’ in order to ensure strong, safe parameters,” researcher Charles S. Grob said to Collective Evolution. “I suppose that is ultimately derived from the shamanic model.”

People who have autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, can suffer from a range of social impairments with varying degrees of severity. The disorder has so far proven baffling to doctors and researchers attempting to cure or ameliorate the symptoms.

“The search for psychotherapeutic options for autistic individuals is imperative considering the lack of effective conventional treatments for mental health diagnoses that are common in this population,” the rationale paper for the study, published recently in Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, states.

MDMA, the main active component in ecstasy or molly, can create a spiritual experience for people who take it, decreasing fear while promoting feelings of well-being, trust and sociability. It has been illegal in the United States since 1985 after it gained a reputation as a party drug.

Recreational use of ecstasy does come with risks, because there is no way of knowing what is actually in the pill, and many are cut with potentially dangerous additives. However, using pure MDMA under professional supervision in a clinical setting is far safer. So far, it’s been used with 1133 people for research without a serious adverse incident, according to the study.

Dr. Alicia Danforth, one of the study authors, told Raw Story that 75 percent of autistic adults said in a survey they feel “more comfort in social settings” when using MDMA and 77 percent found it “easier than usual to talk with others.” The clinical research would give an opportunity to solidify the findings of the survey in a safe and repeatable environment.

Danforth previously completed a study that found that psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, can treat anxiety in patients suffering from terminal cancer. She also appeared on a Reset podcast to explain the benefits of using psychedelics in conjunction with conventional therapies and why she thinks they can be effective for people with autism.

Another MAPS MDMA study to treat people suffering from terminal illness recently received federal approval to move forward. Positive results from that study in addition to the autism research would only add to increasing evidence that psychedelics can be uniquely effective against mental disorders.

One of the most promising features of MDMA and other psychedelic-related treatments is that the substances can be used once, or periodically, but do not require ongoing consumption to be effective, unlike conventional pharmaceutical solutions like anti-anxiety medications which usually need to be taken on a daily basis.

“Now that safety parameters for limited use of MDMA in clinical settings have been established, a case can be made to further develop MDMA-assisted therapeutic interventions that could support autistic adults in increasing social adaptability among the typically developing population,” the rationale paper concludes.

It continues, “Clinicians could employ new treatment models for social anxiety or similar types of distress administering MDMA on one to several occasions within the context of a supportive and integrative psychotherapy protocol.”

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