3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is widely known for its positive acute effects on social behaviour, such as increasing empathy, whilst also attenuating the negative impact of social exclusion. However there is a scarcity of research that investigates the long-term impact of recreational MDMA use on these fundamental social processes.

Sixty-seven individuals were split into three groups based on their drug-use history: poly-drug MDMA users (n = 25), poly-drug users who do not use MDMA (n = 19), alcohol-only users (n = 23), and were tested in an independent groups design. Participants completed both a self-report measure of emotional and cognitive empathy, along with the Multifaceted Empathy Task – a computerised assessment of empathy – and the Cyberball Game – a social exclusion paradigm.

MDMA users had significantly greater subjective emotional empathy, and greater cognitive empathy on the computer task compared with the poly-drug users who do not use MDMA. There were no significant differences in subjective responses to social exclusion between the groups. Indices of MDMA use did not correlate with empathy.

Long-term MDMA users in this sample exhibited normal psychosocial functioning in regard to empathy and social pain and had higher subjective emotional empathy. This conflicts with previous suggestions that moderate, long-term MDMA use may cause heightened social distress, and is further evidence of the safety of the drug, which is relevant to considerations of its therapeutic use.

Carlyle, M., Stevens, T., Fawaz, L., Marsh, B., Kosmider, S., & Morgan, C. J. (2019). Greater empathy in MDMA users. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881119826594., 10.1177/0269881119826594

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