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MDMA Impairs Both the Encoding and Retrieval of Emotional Recollections

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The psychoactive drug ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is increasingly used for its perceived emotional effects (eg, prosociality, empathy, psychotherapy), but surprisingly little research has been aimed at identifying the effect of the drug on emotional episodic memory in humans. Here, we report the first double-blind placebo-controlled study to examine the effects of MDMA on emotional memory separately during encoding and retrieval in healthy participants. Participants viewed emotionally negative, neutral, and positive pictures and their labels. Forty-eight hours later, they were given cued recollection and recognition memory tests designed to assess recollection and familiarity for the studied pictures. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups who received MDMA (1 mg/kg) either during encoding (Encoding group; N=20), retrieval (Retrieval group; N=20), or neither (Placebo group; N=20). Although MDMA administered at either phase did not affect overall memory accuracy, it did alter the recollection of details associated specifically with emotional memories as estimated using a dual process signal detection analysis of confidence judgments and subjective ‘remember’ judgments. In the Encoding group, MDMA reduced recollection estimates for negative and positive pictures but had little to no effect on neutral items or familiarity estimates. There was evidence for similar trends in the Retrieval group. These findings indicate that MDMA attenuates the encoding and retrieval of salient details from emotional events, consistent with the idea that its potential therapeutic effects for treating posttraumatic stress disorder are related to altering emotional memory.
Doss, M. K., Weafer, J., Gallo, D. A., & de Wit, H. (2017). MDMA Impairs Both the Encoding and Retrieval of Emotional Recollections. Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1038/npp.2017.171
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