Friday, December 30, 2011

Not entirely a surprise

Since the 80s, we have been bombarded with media images of "loved-up" clubbers hugging each other and having, like, a connection, man —an episode of Spaced springs to mind, and basically the whole of Human Traffic.

The drug responsible, of course, is Ecstasy—whose active component is MDMA—and Wikipedia briefly describes its effects thusly:
MDMA can induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, and diminished anxiety.

I would say that this is a pretty accurate description of its effects; further, when pure, MDMA has pretty few side-effects (especially when compared to many commonly prescribed anti-depressants, etc.).

As such, your humble Devil has always thought that drug therapies could well be developed from MDMA—either in the field of anti-depressants or in the area of autism. And it seems that studies into the latter are certainly ongoing.
One promising new avenue of research that may one day provide treatment for adult autism involves the use of the psychedelic drug MDMA, or “ecstasy,” within the context of a psychotherapeutic setting, which has been shown to produce lasting feelings of empathy in some people.

Many people who have used MDMA report increased sociability and strong feelings of empathy that last long after the psychoactive effect of the substance wears off. There has been substantial interest in using MDMA as a possible treatment for less severe cases of adult autism, because two of the hallmarks of the disorder are an inability to communicate socially and a lack of empathy.

David Jentsch at the UCLA Center for Autism found that MDMA enhanced the transmission of a key neurochemical in the brain called “vasopressin,” which is known to help mediate sociability. In another study, by G.J. Dumont and colleagues at Radboud University in the Netherlands, researchers found that MDMA increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of love and bonding.

The Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has also gathered together numerous anecdotal reports from people with a high-functioning form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, who have found MDMA to be helpful in their learning to cope more effectively in social situations, and enough reports have now been compiled to warrant further investigation.

A number of people with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome have reported improvements after taking MDMA outside of research contexts. MDMA shows promise for treating autism spectrum disorders, as the effects of MDMA that increase empathy and enhance communication are precisely the abilities that autism tends to degrade.

MAPS is reviewing proposals from autism researchers for a pilot study using MDMA as a possible treatment for Asperger's syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. MAPS will offer a grant of $10,000 for protocol development expenses to run this pilot study.

If you or someone you know has heard of MDMA having either positive or negative effects on symptoms of autism spectrum disorders or Asperger’s syndrome, MAPS would like to hear from you. Please contact MAPS Lead Clinical Research Associate Berra Yazar-Klosinski, Ph.D., at, if you have any information about this.

Which is all good news—although hardly a great leap. After all, if you have a disease in which people are unable to empathise socially, then using a drug that does precisely that seems obvious.


Tom Paine said...

And how long, do you think, before the NHS defines a belief in individual responsibility as a lack of "social empathy?"

Anonymous said...

If you have "Aspergers" or are sufficiently "High functioning" as an Autistic that you can go off, score drugs and report the findings to a Californian institute, it frankly means that there is nothing wrong with you. You evidently have an ability to function socially already, just not as good as that of others. So what? We all have something that we are not brilliant at.

Diagnosing people with "Autistic Spectrum Disorders" is practically a career/industry - There is an entire complex of psychologists, educators and now the pharmaceutical lobbying sector looking to make money out of people (And their parents) who at it's heart, have often simply grown up in a fashion that to others appears somewhat socially maladjusted. This is often because they have never had anyone teach them what constitutes socially acceptable behaviour. This occurs nowadays more than ever before because there are less ongoing public situations where you are expected to comport yourself in a certain way, and fewer people who will outline and compel you to conform to the rules. You have to want to fit in, and branding people with a diagnosis and giving them medication doesn't help them with doing that.

It strikes me that this institute is trying the same tactic that occurs with multiple sclerosis patients being used by the cannabis lobby to push for the complete legalization of their favourite drug.

Anonymous said...

"So what? We all have something that we are not brilliant at."

Sure I can't do the 100m sprint as fast as an olympic athlete but social interaction impairment is far more crippling.

I suffer Aspergers and am "High functioning" but the social effects of the condition are quite bad.

I sense some prohibitionist anti-drugs sentiment in your post.

Anonymous said...

"I suffer Aspergers and am "High functioning" but the social effects of the condition are quite bad."

Are you're sure you're not just a bit shy or uncertain of what mannerisms you need to employ? Your response is completely coherent online, so it suggests to me that you are looking to be better able to "read" and interact with other people in a physical situation. There is no shame in it. These are skills that everyone has to learn.

"I sense some prohibitionist anti-drugs sentiment in your post."

Read it properly. I am about as anti drugs as the following statement. "Does taking drugs solve your problems?" If people take MDMA to relax and the rest of the time they live a normal life, that is absolutely fine by me up to the point of them using heroin: Knock yourself out.

But if you cannot function socially without the stuff, you are basically an addict. Is that what you want to be?

Look at the situation with kids with ADHD - They are drugged using Ritalin as a route to avoiding address of their situation in a way that makes a lot of money for other people and robs them of their autonomy. Sticking yet more of the population on medication of one form or another just seems like a bad idea, really.

Rob F said...

I agree; The only time that I've ever taken MDMA (or what I at least believed to be MDMA, once around twenty years ago - whatever it was it was bloody good at the time).

Since then the most empathic , dopamine (and probably serotonin) - releasing substance that I've ever taken is mephedrone.

Never mind. We can still drink our fill of beer, and feel hungover and a bit grumpy towards other people in the morning afterwards. That's tolerated, for now.

Until they come out with other laws restricting our freedom to drink booze beyond the imaginary alcohol limits, that is.

Richard said...

I haven't taken it, although I'm relaxed about other people doing so.

But from having been around people who had taken ecstasy, it didn't seem to increase their empathy - it just made them think that they were being empathetic (if that's a word).

They certainly never seemed to pick up on the fact that I thought they were acting like complete tossers. Given my lack of subtlety about such points, that always seemed like a pretty major failure of empathy to me.

Anonymous said...

In answering 'anonymous' above. Yes, Ritalin is overprescribed. But people with real ADHD react differently to stimulants. Paradoxically, it makes them calm and focused. It's actually a good test of ADHD... if you don't have ADHD and take stimulants you most certainly won't be relaxed and focused!