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Ecstasy (Yes, the Club Drug) as a Treatment for Autism?

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.

The new studyIs Ecstasy an “Empathogen”?, was undertaken by University of Chicago researchers and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to the lead author, Dr. Gillinder Bedi:

“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.

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Photo by Chris Breikss.

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137 comments

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9:50AM PST on Nov 24, 2012

Won't the kids get addicted?

2:09PM PDT on Jul 31, 2011

Some part of what I wrote was chopped off as there must be some limit on words.

I either case I recovered all senses so they were more than normal over the next decade and a half including speech, hearing, touch, taste, human relatedness.

Three cheers for Ecstasy

2:04PM PDT on Jul 31, 2011

I would like to share my own experience regarding the value of Ecstasy in overcoming a complicated a very rare form of high functioning autism made worse by a family who denied it and pretended they were normal (my family looked normal but had autism related disorders on both sides of the family)

I had been financially successful despite limited social skills and totally screwed up sensory experiences in part from autism, in part from an injury in birth, in part by an unfortunate family upbringing.

I say that because what I describe was funded from my improbably success plus my never say die approach to what I loosely call "living" (autism and being alive are very different as I have learned)

I took Ecstasy by accident 25 years ago and was enveloped by a release of all the physical tensions I had never experienced plus words of spiritual guidance from who knows where.

Over a 3-4 year period I ingested Ecstasy 30-40 times in order to see why I had this release of body tension, to pursue the voice within and figure all this out. Over that period I began dreaming up a storm and recorded many thousands of dreams often accompanied by a voice providing guidance.

Eight years from the first experience with Ecstasy I left New York and experienced for the first time in my life a recovery of color vision and depth perception seemingly spontaneously. The facts are more complicated as they usually are.

Ecstasy allowed me to to see myself which I could never do before.

1:34PM PDT on Jul 31, 2011

I've got aspergers and have huge struggles being open, talking about feelings, etc. When i'm sober my perception and emotions overwhelm my mind so much that i become so focused on them, and they're generally not about the greatest things. I'm 21 and ever since i've graduated high school i've been thrown into a spiritual journey, to learn how to control my mind, thoughts through meditation and focused visualization on near future successes.. like the law of attraction. So far those help at times, but it's not really something i can do to instantly be more outgoing and social when going to a club (I want to be a DJ, but to get big in that industry you really have to connect with other artists, club owners, etc. Which are usually very judgemental. alcohol doesn't really help being more social because the haziness and the crash become too much after a while. I took some MDMA at a local music festival the other night because i just wanted to experience it (i've experimented alot with mushrooms and lsd in the past just for spiritual insights and experiencing elevated states of consciousness.. and i have to say it totally removed Any psyche barriers my aspergers has set up, and i was capable of not acting a fool because from anger problems in my child hood i've learned intense self control, combined with the empathy you feel on mdma and the lifting of these inhibiting barriers, it was like i had the worlds creativity in my fingertips to help with playing music and getting your flow.

6:32PM PST on Mar 7, 2011

Hi
As the lead author on this study I wanted to make clear that our research (being discussed in this piece) involved healthy people without autism/asperger's or any other psychiatric condition. It did not suggest that MDMA would be helpful for autism, and to my knowledge there is no scientific evidence that MDMA is helpful for autism or aspergers.
Cheers
Gill Bedi

1:58PM PST on Feb 28, 2011

http://www.youtube.com/user/HARDCORESTOMPER2010 that is my channel people,thats the life of an asperger person,u wouldnt belive i had this condition,look at how i deal with the world in these videos and tell me if any of you record videos and upload them for the world to see showing aspies u dont have to stay in,u can go out and have fun,dont listen to others if they judge u,so wat,let them think what they want,i am uploading videos now as we speak,will link u all wen i ave,

12:59PM PST on Feb 28, 2011

im autistic and im 27,i have been using legal highs,and other drugs for ten years now,and i would never dream of taking oxyconcin,being autistic is so difficut at times,im a regular user of mdma,it is the only drug that makes me feel normal and makes me feel as if i didnt have a condition,

i find it makes me closer to others,more chatty and all,im not ur normal aspie guy lol,i love raving,i used 2 go out clubbing n all on me own bck in the day,and i have found that if i never took mdma i wouldnt be myself,i wud get judged and all cos when im not on it i dont feel as connected with the world,when i do it feels amazing,my gf who doesnt have aspergers finds me more relaxed and less lost compared to when i aint on it,it is stupid mdma got banned and is illegal,its the most safest drug in the world,now look at all those dodgy legal highs now,ive also researched them for ten years,tryed every single one,also have my own youtube channels that ave been goin for years,i wud love to seee everyone elses views on dis,but mdma is safest and happiest drug u cud take,pity u cant take it all the time cos of ur serotonin,what a world to live in,happyness 247 but that aint life is it lol i feel when i take mdma i dont feel as threatened by others and i relax more quickly and i enjoy myself,mdma doesnt make me paronoid either but can get u into sum rite states lol need i say more, but it shud be legalised.if u aint got aspergers u dont kno what it is like for people like us,life is hard

11:28AM PST on Feb 15, 2011

Scary subject. Research into help for these people, is good, but I take a large shaker of salt with any pushing of synthetic drugs. "Therapy" has not had a great success rate, however, but maybe we, as a society, just want cures too quickly -- a quick pill, instead of years of work. Lot to think about, and this isn't an area of expertise with me.

1:02AM PST on Feb 2, 2011

"But there are plenty of less risky ways to address such. These include social skills training, for children, teenagers, and adults. "

That's not enought. MDMA is needed to get the autist or asperger to actually want to learn social skills in the first place. Get real.

I am aspergers, I went to university and I worked in IT for 10 years, throughout which I probably spent about 1000 hours on MDMA, socialising much more in new ways that I never would have learnt though training or alcohol (I tried! Alcohol does not work for aspergers, whatever they might think!).

Research is needed! MDMA for Autism. Cannabinoids for autism too (there is a facebook group - cannabis for autism!)

12:48AM PST on Feb 2, 2011

I can confirm that MDMA works therapeutically for Aspergers. Occasional use over several years teaches the autist what it feels like to be empathic. After a few years the teaching is permanent. There should be research into this asap. Already there is much needed research into the theraputic effects of cannabinoids for Autistic people. If anyone would like some links there is a facebook group: Cannabis for autism

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