±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) is a stimulant-psychedelic drug with unique social effects. It may dampen reactivity to negative social stimuli such as social threat and rejection. Perhaps because of these effects, MDMA has shown promise as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the effect of single doses of MDMA on responses to an acute psychosocial stressor has not been tested.
In this study, we sought to test the effects of MDMA on responses to stress in healthy adults using a public speaking task. We hypothesized that the drug would reduce responses to the stressful task.
Volunteers (N = 39) were randomly assigned to receive placebo (N = 13), 0.5 mg/kg MDMA (N = 13), or 1.0 mg/kg MDMA (N = 13) during a stress and a no-stress session. Dependent measures included subjective reports of drug effects and emotional responses to the task, as well as salivary cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The stress task produced its expected increase in physiological responses (cortisol, heart rate) and subjective ratings of stress in all three groups, and MDMA produced its expected subjective and physiological effects. MDMA alone increased ratings of subjective stress, heart rate, and saliva cortisol concentrations, but contrary to our hypothesis, it did not moderate responses to the Trier Social Stress Test.
Despite its efficacy in PTSD and anxiety, MDMA did not reduce either the subjective or objective responses to stress in this controlled study. The conditions under which MDMA relieves responses to negative events or memories remain to be determined.
Bershad, A. K., Miller, M. A., & de Wit, H. (2017). MDMA does not alter responses to the Trier Social Stress Test in humans. Psychopharmacology, 1-8. 10.1007/s00213-017-4621-x
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