- A small new study has shown how MDMA could help reduce social anxiety in people with autism.
- 12 participants took part in the research, and those who had MDMA-assisted therapy reported more of an impact on their confidence.
- The study adds to a growing body of research on how drugs such as MDMA can help with anxiety disorders.
- Microdosing with other drugs like LSD and ketamine has also shown positive results.
Microdosing has become a popular field of research, with more and more studies coming out showing potential benefits of taking small quantities of psychedelic drugs.
Many effects of taking these drugs have been documented, such as boosting mood, helping emotional balance, improving performance, and treating mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
In a new study, published this month in the journal Psychopharmacology, MDMA (ecstasy) was shown to be a potential treatment option for autistic people with social anxiety.
The small study involved just 12 people, all of whom had autism. Those who were given two sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy reported a greater reduction of social anxiety than those who were given a placebo with the therapy.
Researchers from the Biomedical Research Institute at Harbour-UCLA Medical Center used the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) to measure the participants’ social anxiety. Essentially, it gives you a score for how socially phobic you are (a higher score meaning you are more socially anxious.)
Those who took the MDMA saw a reduction of 44.1 points on average, compared to 19.3 in the placebo group.
Although the study was small, the researchers are confident of the positive impacts of MDMA on the participants.
“What was particularly notable for many of the participants after treatment was their increased self-confidence when interacting in social settings, an endeavour that in the past they had experienced as overwhelming,” said Charles Grob, one of the authors of the study.
“We hope that our study will help to establish a foundation for future investigations exploring the safety and efficacy of MDMA in the treatment of social anxiety in vulnerable patient populations.”
There were no unexpected reactions to the MDMA therapy, but people did report similar side effects to what they have in previous research, such as fatigue, headaches, and sensitivity to the cold – although none of them were serious or debilitating.
Those who took part said they felt fewer barriers when interacting with people at school, work, or in their friendship groups.
“I felt like I was experiencing my best self and seeing the world for the first time and seeing myself for the first time,” said one participant.
“I realised communication is not just about talking,” said another. “Now, I take time to notice my emotions and others’ emotions before talking.”
This study builds on a growing body of research into the effects of MDMA on anxiety disorders. In May 2018, a study found that MDMA helped people who were suffering from PTSD. Most of the 26 participants had few or no PTSD symptoms a year after taking MDMA with therapy sessions. The authors of the study expect FDA approval of MDMA treatment by 2021.
Even octopuses seem to see a benefit of MDMA, with a small amount of the drug making them more social and friendly.
More research has been published about the effects of other drugs too. For instance, LSD has been shown to make people feel more connected to others, and ketamine could soon be used to treat depression.
Even DMT, derived from ayahuasca and thought to be the most psychedelic and hallucinogenic drug in the world, could have therapeutic benefits.
“I believe DMT can be utilised in a therapeutic setting as a revolutionary treatment used to heal people,” said one user of DMT. “The world is changing and I think we’re entering a new era of human civilisation.”
As for researchers, they hope to continue building a profile of how to use these kinds of drugs safely. Alicia Danforth, another author of the MDMA research, said she hopes their paper will inspire funding for larger studies.
“We are looking forward to sharing what we learned with other researchers and communities committed to improving the quality of care for autistic adults and other populations struggling with social anxiety,” she said.
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