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Ecstasy Research

July 20, 2016

Can studying how certain Schedule I drugs work lead to insights about brain function?


MDMA_molecule_from_xtal_ball By Jynto CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

A molecule of MDMA, aka Ecstasy. (Jynto/CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)


What could scientists learn from the drug ecstasy? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

MDMA, or ecstasy, is a drug that triggers feelings of empathy and closeness among users. Stanford neuroscientist and psychiatrist Robert Malenka wants to know how it works.

ROBERT MALENKA (Stanford University):

Drugs can be windows into brain function, as long as they are studied carefully and  rigorously. I think we might learn a lot about the mechanisms in our brain that allow us to feel empathy towards one another.


But like heroin and LSD, MDMA is a Schedule I drug, making it almost impossible to obtain legally, even for research. In the journal Cell, Malenka and his colleague Boris Heifets make a case for easing restrictions on MDMA research. Despite the drug’s potential for abuse, they say it could also lead to new insights into autism, schizophrenia and other poorly understood conditions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.