Ecstasy (Yes, the Club Drug) as a Treatment for Autism?
A new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that MDMA—that’s the club drug, ecstasy—may be used to ‘enhance the psychotherapy of people who struggle to feel connected to others.’ For this reason, it’s suggested that the drug might be used with those who have autism, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder. Researchers do note that ‘these effects have been difficult to measure objectively, and there has been limited research in humans.’ And it’s pretty hard not to look at this latest idea about treating autism with several grains of salt.
“We found that MDMA produced friendliness, playfulness, and loving feelings, even when it was administered to people in a laboratory with little social contact. We also found that MDMA reduced volunteers’ capacity to recognize facial expressions of fear in other people, an effect that may be involved in the increased sociability said to be produced by MDMA.”
The study found that the use of MDMA can make others ‘seem more attractive and friendly.’ However, MDMA can also make others seem ‘less threatening, which could increase users’ social risk-taking’—and which could, and would, one might think, pose potentially significant problems for those with psychiatric disorders or individuals on the autism spectrum, who may well have difficulties ‘reading’ and processing others’ social cues.
An article in the December 31st New York Daily News also cites another study, published last July, that looked at the use of MDMA for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The rationale for using this particular drug for autism seems to be that it assists with helping people to make contact socially; to connect. Certainly difficulties with social interactions, social communication, and social skills are regularly noted in those on the autism spectrum. But there are plenty of less risky ways to address such. These include social skills training, for children, teenagers, and adults.
Further, based on my experiences as the mother of an autistic son and from the numerous interactions and friendships I have been fortunate to have with many who are themselves on the autism spectrum, I think it behooves the rest of us to try to think about how we can change ourselves. Just because someone does not respond to the usual social norms and cues as we expect does not necessarily mean she or he is rude or arrogant. She or he may need more time to process language and gestures. And it is certainly possible for us to change our responses and behaviors to communicate our understanding.
The difficulties that autistic persons often have in social settings are often understood to mean that they prefer to be alone and isolated. While these days my son certainly likes to spend time in his room listening to music, he really likes having other people around and being around other people, from his fellow students, his teachers and therapists, relatives and even ….. his parents (Charlie is a teenager now and does have a lot of challenges, but he wants to be independent and ‘on his own’ as much as any other child, and that includes telling my husband and me that he’d like to have his own space at times, thank you very much).
And I don’t think that you’ll be surprised to hear that the researchers state that more research needs to be done on using something like ecstasy in therapeutic settings, for individuals with the disorders and conditions noted above.
Photo by Chris Breikss.