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MDMA Study Asks if MDMA can Help "Do the Work" in Romantic Relationships

A couple sits on a couch talking opposite a therapist

“Romantic relationships take work” is a phrase that’s verging on cliche. What no one talks about is how there are no rulebooks on what you can do to make things easier when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship with a partner. For some couples, it’s about regularly checking in with one another to take an emotional temperature, or something more formal, like attending couples counseling. 

As psychedelic therapy becomes increasingly more mainstream, some couples are looking to alternative ways to work on their relationships. But does it work? Some research suggests that MDMA could be a useful tool for some couples, though there’s still a way to go before it’s a reality.

A recently completed qualitative study shows promise that MDMA could help repair relationships.

Couples could benefit from MDMA therapy

Titled Evenings with Molly: Adult Couples' Use of MDMA for Relationship Enhancement, the study focused on in-depth interviews with couples relating to their use of the drug along with the set and setting as a general framework to understand their private experiences with MDMA. Four overarching themes were uncovered: Conscious Use, A Tool for Exploring, Planned Recovery, and Difficult Experiences.

The couples surveyed reported making committed decisions about the use of the drug and preparing emotionally and physically for the experience together. They described the positive impact it had on communicating, intimacy, and helping to “tune up” their relationships.

It’s important to note that the study was limited to only eight couples, and researchers admitted that more study is needed when it comes to MDMA and couples struggling in a relationship. It’s likely we’ll be reading more about this, considering the promising results of recent trials involving the drug’s impact on certain mental health disorders. 

Studies show that MDMA can be effective alongside psychotherapy

Recent studies that focused on MDMA in people with PTSD concluded that the treatment, along with talk therapy, was “a potential breakthrough treatment that merits expedited clinical evaluation.”

The New York Times recently explored the theory that MDMA has the potential to help mend struggling relationships. It profiled several couples who experimented with unregulated MDMA as a last-ditch attempt to save their marriages, with some success. It references a published study where six couples experienced MDMA-assisted therapy in a clinical setting. At least one member of each pairing was required to have PTSD in order to take part in the research. The research found that five of the six people with PTSD no longer experienced symptoms and had felt more satisfied in their relationship.

Michelle Craver, APRN, a clinician at Mindbloom, sees the potential in MDMA as a therapeutic tool to help couples who struggle with communication, alongside talk therapy.

“MDMA has shown to be able to help individuals open up, which could provide added benefit for couples who aren’t inherently good at discussing their feelings together,” Craver says.

Mindbloom is continuing to monitor clinical studies on MDMA and its path to approval for treatment of PTSD.

Legal and safety notes

MDMA reduces inhibitions and can lead to feelings of euphoria, sexual stimulation, empathy and a more intense closeness to others. Side effects include nausea, increased heart rate, hot flashes or chills and frequent, involuntary clenching of the jaw. Prolonged or overuse of MDMA can lead to damage to nerve cells in the brain that contain serotonin. 

In the U.S., MDMA is a Schedule I drug, which means it is not legally prescribable and is only available for clinical trials.

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Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Important FDA Safety Information

Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.

Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).

Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:

  • Allergic to ketamine
  • Symptoms of psychosis or mania
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • CHF or other serious heart problem
  • Severe breathing problem
  • History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
  • History of hyperthyroidism
  • Other serious medical illness
  • Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant

Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.

While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.

  • In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
  • Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
  • Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
  • The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.

To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:

  • Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
  • Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
  • Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
  • Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
  • Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
  • Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety

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MDMA Study Asks if MDMA can Help "Do the Work" in Romantic Relationships