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MDMA’s Early Medicinal Uses

Although MDMA may hold therapeutic value, it has been made illegal due to the high risk of abuse and addiction.

MDMA is most famous for being the active ingredient in the club drug ecstasy, but it was created in a German lab in the early 1900s and patented between 1912 and 1913. Originally designed to be a parent compound to synthesize other drugs, the pharmaceutical company Merck intended to market it as a diet pill, but never proceeded with the medication. MDMA remained under the radar and didn’t receive much attention for the next few decades.

What Is MDMA?

MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, is a synthetic mood altering drug that combines the effects of both psychedelics and stimulants. It gives its users altered sensations and perceptions, as well as increased sensitivity, and an increase in positive emotions and well-being. An illicit Schedule I substance, MDMA is known as a club drug and popular in the rave and dance scene. Sometimes called Mandy or Molly, MDMA, and can be combined with a wide variety of other drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, or bath salts.

What Does MDMA Do?

Medicinal Uses

MDMA was once used in combination with talk therapy to treat those with psychological disorders.

MDMA causes an increase in certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Specifically, it increases dopamine, which gives the user an energy boost as well as an euphoric high. MDMA also increases norepinephrine levels which make heart rate and blood pressure rise, stimulating the body. There’s also a significant boost in serotonin levels, improving mood, limiting appetite, reducing the need for sleep, and giving users an increase in arousal and emotional closeness. Once MDMA metabolizes and leaves the body, it causes a drop in these neurotransmitters. While the brain quickly readjusts, the sudden drop in serotonin is often associated with short term depression a few days after use.


In the 1970s, MDMA started being used by some psychotherapists in combination with talk therapy to treat patients with certain psychological disorders and issues. While it wasn’t FDA approved for use in humans and no clinical trials were completed, therapists used it to increase communication and believed it helped patients gain different perspectives and insights into their issues by reducing the brain’s normal fear response. It was dubbed “penicillin for the soul.” MDMA was also used in therapy to help couples as well as trauma victims suffering PTSD.

1985 Ban

As MDMA’s popularity in therapy grew, it found its way onto the streets and started being used recreationally. In 1985, the FDA officially banned MDMA, labeling it a Schedule I drug with no therapeutic value. Although many medical professionals argued for MDMA’s therapeutic benefits, it was deemed illegal and no research was allowed until near the end of the twentieth century.

History of Psychedelic Drugs

And Now?

MDMA and other psychedelic drugs are again being explored to see if they have any therapeutic benefits, and MDMA is showing some positives, especially for those who haven’t been able to succeed with traditional therapeutic approaches. Used in a controlled setting, the drug seems to help those with PTSD manage their symptoms and learn to utilize coping skills to reduce stress. In one study, 83 percent of those receiving MDMA during treatment no longer met the requirement for PTSD once treatment was complete.

It’s too early to say if MDMA has the possibility of having a real benefit in the therapeutic community, and more research needs to be done to determine the full clinical applications.

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