The Psychopharmacology of ±3,4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine and its Role in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

J Psychoactive Drugs. Nov-Dec 2015;47(5):337-44. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2015.1094156. Epub 2015 Nov 18.


Prior to 1985, ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) was readily used as a psychotherapeutic adjunct. As MDMA became popular in treating various psychiatric illnesses by mental health professionals, the public started to abuse the MDMA-containing recreational drug "ecstasy." This alarmed the DEA, which led to emergency scheduling of MDMA as a Schedule I drug. Due to its scheduling in 1985, human research and clinical use has been limited. The majority of research on MDMA has been focused on the drug's potential harmful effects rather than its possible therapeutic effects. The limitations on retrospective human studies and preclinical animal models of MDMA neurotoxicity are examined in this analysis. New research has shown that MDMA, used as a catalyst in psychotherapy, is effective in treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This review also examines the psychopharmacological basis for the efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Specifically, the brain regions involved with both PTSD and those activated by MDMA (i.e., amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and hippocampus) are examined. Also, the possible neurochemical mechanisms involved in MDMA's efficacy in treating PTSD are reviewed.

Keywords: MDMA; MDMA-assisted psychotherapy; PTSD; posttraumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / adverse effects
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / pharmacology*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / therapeutic use
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy*


  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine