Advertisement

Psychopharmacology

, Volume 231, Issue 21, pp 4219–4229 | Cite as

MDMA alters emotional processing and facilitates positive social interaction

  • Margaret C. WardleEmail author
  • Harriet de Wit
Original Investigation

Abstract

Background

±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) produces “prosocial” effects, such as feelings of empathy and closeness, thought to be important to its abuse and its value in psychotherapy. However, it is not fully understood how MDMA alters basic emotional processes to produce these effects, or whether it produces corresponding changes in actual social behavior. Here, we examined how MDMA affects perceptions of and responses to emotional expressions, and tested its effects on behavior during a social interaction. We also examined whether MDMA’s prosocial effects related to a measure of abuse liability.

Methods

Over three sessions, 36 healthy volunteers with previous ecstasy use received MDMA (0.75, 1.5 mg/kg) and placebo under double-blind conditions. We measured (i) mood and cardiovascular effects, (ii) perception of and psychophysiological responses to emotional expressions, (iii) use of positive and negative words in a social interaction, and (iv) perceptions of an interaction partner. We then tested whether these effects predicted desire to take the drug again.

Results

MDMA slowed perception of angry expressions, increased psychophysiological responses to happy expressions, and increased positive word use and perceptions of partner empathy and regard in a social interaction. These effects were not strongly related to desire to take the drug again.

Conclusions

MDMA alters basic emotional processes by slowing identification of negative emotions and increasing responses to positive emotions in others. Further, it positively affects behavior and perceptions during actual social interaction. These effects may contribute to the efficacy of MDMA in psychotherapy, but appear less closely related to its abuse potential.

Keywords

Ecstasy MDMA Emotion perception Social cognition Social interaction Psychophysiology 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Celina Joos, Charles Frye, Lindsey Davis, Aoibhin Curran, and Sarah Ellefson for help with data collection and scoring, and the University of Chicago Investigational Pharmacy service for preparing the drug capsules. This work was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA002812) to HdW, and MCW was supported during the execution of this work by a National Institute on Drug Abuse Training Grant (T32 DA007255).

Conflict of interest

Dr. Wardle reports no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest. Dr. de Wit reports no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

References

  1. Bates DM, Meachler M, Bolker B (2011) lme4: linear mixed-effects model using S4 classesGoogle Scholar
  2. Bedi G, Hyman D, de Wit H (2010) Is ecstasy an "empathogen"? Effects of ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine on prosocial feelings and identification of emotional states in others. Biol Psychiatry 68:1134–1140PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Bedi G, Phan KL, Angstadt M, de Wit H (2009) Effects of MDMA on sociability and neural response to social threat and social reward. Psychopharmacology 207:73–83PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Benton CP, Etchells PJ, Porter G, Clark AP, Penton-Voak IS, Nikolov SG (2007) Turning the other cheek: the viewpoint dependence of facial expression after-effects. Proc Royal Soc B: Biol Sci 274:2131–2137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bouso JC, Doblin R, Farré M, Alcázar MÁ, Gómez-Jarabo G (2008) MDMA-assisted psychotherapy using low doses in a small sample of women with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. J Psychoactive Drugs 40:225–236PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dimberg U, Karlsson B (1997) Facial reactions to different emotionally relevant stimuli. Scand J Psychol 38:297–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dimberg U, Thunberg M, Elmehed K (2000) Unconscious facial reactions to emotional facial expressions. Psychol Sci 11:86–89PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. First MB, Spitzer RL, Gibbon M, Williams JB (1996) Strutured clinical interview for DSM-IV axis I disorders. Biometrics Research Department, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Frye CG, Wardle MC, Norman GJ, de Wit H (2014) MDMA decreases the effects of simulated social rejection. Pharmacol, Biochem Behav 117:1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gabbay FH (2003) Variations in affect following amphetamine and placebo: markers of stimulant drug preference. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 11:91–101PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gospic K, Gunnarsson T, Fransson P, Ingvar M, Lindefors N, Petrovic P (2008) Emotional perception modulated by an opioid and a cholecystokinin agonist. Psychopharmacology 197:295–307PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Griffiths RR, Bigelow GE, Ator NA (2003) Principles of initial experimental drug abuse liability assessment in humans. Drug Alcohol Depend 70:S41–S54PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Harmer CJ (2008) Serotonin and emotional processing: does it help explain antidepressant drug action? Neuropharmacology 55:1023–1028PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Harmer CJ, Shelley NC, Cowen PJ, Goodwin GM (2004) Increased positive versus negative affective perception and memory in healthy volunteers following selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition. Am J Psychiatry 161:1256–1263PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harris D, Baggott M, Mendelson J, Mendelson J, Jones R (2002) Subjective and hormonal effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in humans. Psychopharmacology 162:396–405PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hysek C, Domes G, Liechti M (2012) MDMA enhances “mind reading” of positive emotions and impairs “mind reading” of negative emotions. Psychopharmacology (Berl): 1-10Google Scholar
  17. Hysek CM, Schmid Y, Simmler LD, Domes G, Heinrichs M, Eisenegger C, Preller KH, Quednow BB, Liechti ME (2013) MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst161 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hysek CM, Simmler LD, Schillinger N, Meyer N, Schmid Y, Donzelli M, Grouzmann E, Liechti ME (2014) Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic effects of methylphenidate and MDMA administered alone or in combination. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 17:371–381PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Janowsky DS (2003) Depression and dysphoria effects on the interpersonal perception of negative and positive moods and caring relationships: effects of antidepressants, amphetamine, and methylphenidate. Curr Psychiatry Rep 5:451–459PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Janowsky DS, Clopton P, Leichner PP, Abrams AA, Judd LL, Pechnick R (1979) Interpersonal effects of marijuana: a model for the study of interpersonal psychopharmacology. Arch Gen Psychiatry 36:781–785PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johansen P, Krebs T (2009) How could MDMA (ecstasy) help anxiety disorders? A neurobiological rationale. J Psychopharmacol (Oxf) 23:389–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kirkpatrick MG, de Wit H (2013) In the company of others: social factors alter acute alcohol effects. Psychopharmacology 230:215–226PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kirkpatrick MG, Lee R, Wardle MC, Jacob S, de Wit H (2014) Effects of MDMA and intranasal oxytocin on social and emotional processing. Neuropsychopharmacol. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.12 Google Scholar
  24. LaBar KS, Crupain MJ, Voyvodic JT, McCarthy G (2003) Dynamic perception of facial affect and identity in the human brain. Cereb Cortex 13:1023–1033PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Larsen JT, Norris CJ, Cacioppo JT (2003) Effects of positive and negative affect on electromyographic activity over zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii. Psychophysiology 40:776–785PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lieb R, Schuetz CG, Pfister H, von Sydow K, Wittchen H-U (2002) Mental disorders in ecstasy users: a prospective-longitudinal investigation. Drug Alcohol Depend 68:195–207PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Liechti ME, Gamma A, Vollenweider FX (2001) Gender differences in the subjective effects of MDMA. Psychopharmacology 154:161–168PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Liechti ME, Vollenweider FX (2001) Which neuroreceptors mediate the subjective effects of MDMA in humans? A summary of mechanistic studies. Hum Psychopharmacol: Clin Exp 16:589–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Marrone GF, Pardo JS, Krauss RM, Hart CL (2010) Amphetamine analogs methamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) differentially affect speech. Psychopharmacology 208:169–177PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mithoefer MC, Wagner MT, Mithoefer AT, Jerome L, Doblin R (2011) The safety and efficacy of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder: the first randomized controlled pilot study. J Psychopharmacol (Oxf) 25:439–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mithoefer MC, Wagner MT, Mithoefer AT, Jerome L, Martin SF, Yazar-Klosinski B, Michel Y, Brewerton TD, Doblin R (2013) Durability of improvement in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and absence of harmful effects or drug dependency after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy: a prospective long-term follow-up study. J Psychopharmacol (Oxf) 27:28–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moody EJ, McIntosh DN, Mann LJ, Weisser KR (2007) More than mere mimicry? The influence of emotion on rapid facial reactions to faces. Emotion 7:447–457PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Oehen P, Traber R, Widmer V, Schnyder U (2013) A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). J Psychopharmacol (Oxf) 27:40–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pennebaker JW, Booth RJ, Francis ME (2007) Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count: LIWC 2007. LIWC, Austin, TXGoogle Scholar
  35. Platt B, Kamboj S, Morgan CJA, Curran HV (2010) Processing dynamic facial affect in frequent cannabis-users: evidence of deficits in the speed of identifying emotional expressions. Drug Alcohol Depend 112:27–32PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Development Core Team R (2011) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, AustriaGoogle Scholar
  37. Soar K, Turner JJD, Parrott AC (2006) Problematic versus non-problematic ecstasy/MDMA use: the influence of drug usage patterns and pre-existing psychiatric factors. J Psychopharmacol (Oxf) 20:417–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sumnall HR, Cole JC, Jerome L (2006) The varieties of ecstatic experience: an exploration of the subjective experiences of ecstasy. J Psychopharmacol (Oxf) 20:670–682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tancer M, Johanson C-E (2007) The effects of fluoxetine on the subjective and physiological effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in humans. Psychopharmacology 189:565–573PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ter Bogt TFM, Engels RCME (2005) “Partying” hard: party style, motives for and effects of MDMA use at rave parties. Subst Use Misuse 40:1479–1502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tremblay LK, Naranjo CA, Graham SJ et al (2005) Functional neuroanatomical substrates of altered reward processing in major depressive disorder revealed by a dopaminergic probe. Arch Gen Psychiatry 62:1228–1236PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Vollenweider FX, Gamma A, Liechti M, Huber T (1998) Psychological and cardiovascular effects and short-term sequelae of MDMA (“ecstasy”) in MDMA-naive healthy volunteers. Neuropsychopharmacology 19:241–251PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Walter NT, Mutic S, Markett S, Montag C, Klein AM, Reuter M (2011) The influence of alcohol intake and alcohol expectations on the recognition of emotions. Alcohol Alcohol 46:680–685PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wardle M, Cederbaum K, de Wit H (2011) Quantifying talk: developing reliable measures of verbal productivity. Beh Res Methods 43:168–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wardle M, de Wit H (2012) Effects of amphetamine on reactivity to emotional stimuli. Psychopharmacology 220:143–153PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  46. Wardle M, Garner M, Munafò M, de Wit H (2012) Amphetamine as a social drug: effects of d-amphetamine on social processing and behavior. Psychopharmacology (Berl): 1-12Google Scholar
  47. White TL, Justice AJH, de Wit H (2002) Differential subjective effects of d-amphetamine by gender, hormone levels and menstrual cycle phase. Pharmacol, Biochem Behav 73:729–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Texas Health Science Center at HoustonHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral NeuroscienceUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations