Scientists weren’t able to prove that this “love drug” is worth the hype.
Researchers found that, despite its reputation, MDMA — often referred to as ecstasy — did not increase trust, cooperative behavior or empathy in study participants.
These findings, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, were determined by subjecting 25 people to two sessions where they were dosed with either a placebo or MDMA. Once dosed, participants completed a series of social assessment tasks, including playing a dictator game, an ultimatum game and a public project game.
While “MDMA acutely increased self-reported ‘closeness to others’ and ‘euphoria,’ ” it did not have a significant impact on “task-based empathy, trust or cooperative behavior,” the authors found in the experiment.
However, researchers acknowledge that this finding, at odds with the public perception of the so-called “party drug,” may be a result of the sterile site of their double-blind study.
“Often ostensibly clear-cut drug effects can be difficult to robustly replicate in a laboratory setting,” study authors Anya Borissova and Will Lawn recently told PsyPost. “This may be because these apparently prominent effects are not so real after all, or because laboratory measures are insensitive.”
For example, the study tested if MDMA increased trust in social interactions via a computer task involving whether to share money online — quite a contrast to the context and situations in which people are generally known for taking the drug.
The study also didn’t find evidence of another common perception of the drug: That it has a horrible, belated hangover.
“Despite the well-known ‘come-down’ effects observed with recreational ecstasy use, MDMA was safe without any bad effects on people’s moods in the days after the study,” the authors added. “This is crucially important when considering the side-effects of MDMA administration in clinical groups.”
Recently there has been increased research and de-stigmatization of the drug with respect to using MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).