Ecstasy and language: MDMA changes how people talk about their significant others

MDMA or “ecstasy” has well-documented empathogenic effects. The drug increases feelings of empathy and social connection. Now, research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has found that this increase in sociability is even reflected in the language of those under the influence of MDMA.

“MDMA is thought to have prosocial effects that are unusual or even unique,” the researchers said. “Our analysis of transcribed speech about emotionally important others showed evidence of these prosocial effects.”

In the study, 35 healthy men and women received single doses of MDMA or a placebo before speaking about their relationship with an important person in their lives.

Participants under the influence of MDMA used more social and sexual words. They also talked more about the future and death. Though MDMA is similar to stimulants, the drug did not increase talkativeness.

“Under the influence of the drug, participants in our study described the target person using proportionally fewer phrases with psychological content and more with factual content,” the researcher said. “Although this initially appears inconsistent with the purported insight-producing effect of MDMA, a closer examination of the phrases describing target individuals suggests the effect may be due to a shift from stating general abstract opinions to mentioning more specific concrete details and episodes.”

Preliminary research suggests that MDMA can be used along with talk therapy to help alleviate conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. The authors of the current study provided one reason why MDMA might have therapeutic value.

“Overall, these data suggest that MDMA does not only selectively blunt availability of negative emotional memories or enhance positive ones, but may also increase willingness or ability to consider emotional memories, at least in the presence of another person,” they noted.