Study: MDMA Can Help Silence Self-Criticism

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by Aaron Kase

on May 29, 2015

If you just can’t give yourself a break, psychedelics might hold the answer. MDMA can help people reduce their self-critical impulses and instead help them to treat themselves with more compassion, new research has discovered.

MDMA, better known by its street names Ecstasy or Molly, is a synthetic chemical that produces psychedelic effects as well as energy, euphoria and emotional warmth in people who consume it.

The study, conducted by the University College London and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, tracked people’s reactions to “self-threatening scenarios” before and after MDMA consumption, and also after people were shown “compassionate imagery.”

The researchers noted that the pro-social effects of MDMA were similar to those associated with Eastern spiritual practices like meditation. Given that comparison, they wondered if the psychedelic could also help with internal views as well.

“We propose that one potential mechanism of action of MDMA in psychotherapy is through enhancing effects on intrapersonal attitudes (i.e. pro-social attitudes towards the self),” the study states. “Compassionate imagery and ecstasy produced similar sociotropic effects, as well as increases in self-compassion and reductions in self-criticism.”

Researchers gathered 20 people who already had experience taking ecstasy and gave them guided exercises to increase their self-compassion. The experiment worked the best on people who normally had high attachment-avoidance aspects to their personality, with the MDMA appearing to allow them to embrace compassionate feelings toward themselves while gaining a better understanding of negative emotions like fear and self-hate.

Self-criticism can be a component of many more serious mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders and personality disorders, so the findings have the potential to be groundbreaking.

“Finding effective ways of dealing with self-criticism therefore remains a priority for psychiatry and clinical psychology,” the study states. “Various lines of research support the use of self-compassion-enhancing strategies to overcome the effects of self-criticism. Yet, for some individuals the initial experience of self-compassion, even in therapeutic settings, can be challenging.”

The dosage and purity of the MDMA weren’t controlled in this experiment, so the scientists suggest further research in a more formal study to corroborate and refine the results.

Other recent studies have shown that MDMA can also be useful in treating PTSD, working through relationship problems and treating anxiety in adults with autism.

MDMA was used successfully in various forms of psychotherapy before the federal government banned the substance in 1985 after it gained a reputation as a party drug. However, the non-profit psychedelic research center MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies) is hoping that these and other studies will help convince the government to approve MDMA as a legal medication by 2021.

“Much like marijuana, the therapeutic benefits of MDMA have long been known,” Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said to Medical Daily. “It’s our hope that support for therapeutic use of MDMA will similarly grow, particularly as the promise of MDMA-assisted therapy becomes more clear for conditions like PTSD and anxiety.”