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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.