MDMA, or ecstasy, once had the reputation of exclusively being an illicit party drug popular at raves and dance clubs. That view has changed in recent years. The substance, known for its ability to produce feelings of euphoria and affection for others, has developed a new identity as a promising therapeutic tool. Researchers are currently investigating MDMA-assisted therapy as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in late-stage clinical trials. The drug’s capacity to enhance sociability has also led to studies investigating its benefits for other conditions, such as social anxiety in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Despite the promise of its therapeutic benefits, concern persists among some scientists that MDMA could be abused because its pleasurable effects can make it addictive.
A new study by [researcher Robert] Malenka and his team suggests it may be possible to circumvent this risk. The findings, published [December 11] in Science Translational Medicine, reveal that MDMA’s sociability-enhancing abilities and its pleasurable properties are controlled by distinct pathways in the brain—at least in mice. That insight opens the possibility of developing a safer version of the drug.
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