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MDMA for the treatment of mood disorder: all talk no substance?

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Unipolar depression is the third highest contributor to the global burden of disease, yet current pharmacotherapies typically take about 6 weeks to have an effect. A rapid-onset agent is an attractive prospect, not only to alleviate symptoms before first-line antidepressants display therapeutic action, but as a further treatment option in nonresponsive cases. It has been suggested that 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) could play a part in the treatment of depression, either as a rapid-onset pharmacological agent or as an adjunct to psychotherapy. Whilst these hypotheses are in keeping with the monoamine theory of depression and the principles surrounding psychotherapy, explicit experimental evidence of an antidepressant effect of MDMA has rarely been established.


To address the hypothesis surrounding MDMA as a rapid-onset antidepressant by examining pharmacological, psychological and behavioural studies. We consider whether this therapy could be safe by looking at the translation of neurotoxicity data from animals to humans.


A literature review of the evidence supporting this hypothesis was performed.


The pharmacology of MDMA offers a promising target as a rapid-onset agent and MDMA is currently being investigated for use in psychotherapy in anxiety disorders; translation from these studies for use in depression may be possible. However, experimental evidence and safety analysis are insufficient to confirm or reject this theory at present.

Patel, R., & Titheradge, D. (2015). MDMA for the treatment of mood disorder: all talk no substance?. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2045125315583786.
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