Recreational 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) or 'ecstasy' and self-focused compassion: Preliminary steps in the development of a therapeutic psychopharmacology of contemplative practices

Sunjeev K Kamboj, Emma J Kilford, Stephanie Minchin, Abigail Moss, Will Lawn, Ravi K Das, Caroline J Falconer, Paul Gilbert, H Valerie Curran, Tom P Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) produces diverse pro-social effects. Cognitive training methods rooted in Eastern contemplative practices also produce these effects through the development of a compassionate mindset. Given this similarity, we propose that one potential mechanism of action of MDMA in psychotherapy is through enhancing effects on intrapersonal attitudes (i.e. pro-social attitudes towards the self). We provide a preliminary test of this idea. Recreational MDMA (ecstasy) users were tested on two occasions, having consumed or not consumed ecstasy. Self-critical and self-compassionate responses to self-threatening scenarios were assessed before (T1) and after (T2) ecstasy use (or non-use), and then after compassionate imagery (T3). Moderating roles of dispositional self-criticism and avoidant attachment were examined. Separately, compassionate imagery and ecstasy produced similar sociotropic effects, as well as increases in self-compassion and reductions in self-criticism. Higher attachment-related avoidance was associated with additive effects of compassionate imagery and ecstasy on self-compassion. Findings were in line with MDMA's neuropharmacological profile, its phenomenological effects and its proposed adjunctive use in psychotherapy. However, although conditions were balanced, the experiment was non-blind and MDMA dose/purity was not determined. Controlled studies with pharmaceutically pure MDMA are still needed to test these effects rigorously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)961-970
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Volume29
Issue number9
Early online date18 May 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015

Keywords

  • Adult
  • Affect/drug effects
  • Empathy/drug effects
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens/pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine/pharmacology
  • Psychopharmacology/methods
  • Psychotherapy/methods

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