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Can MDMA Make You Fall In Love?

We have more information than ever on how substances such as MDMA (sometimes known as ecstasy or molly), when used carefully and mindfully, can help people create positive changes in their lives. In particular, MDMA assists people in healing relationships, not just with themselves and their past but also with their closest loved ones.

One of the key figures in exploring and bringing this phenomenon into the mainstream is Charley Wininger, psychotherapist, and author of Listening to Ecstasy. In this post, we'll explore his life and work and look at both the scientific evidence and personal accounts that show the potential of MDMA to bring healing and balance to relationships.

But first, a little about MDMA.

What is MDMA?

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a chemical compound with structural similarities to mescaline but a distinctly different effect. Rather than being an intensely visual psychedelic, it typically produces feelings of energy, empathy, closeness, connection, and safety. This empathy-amplifying effect has led to it being described as an "empathogen."

Research has shown that MDMA increases the release and prevents the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine, which is associated with increases in pleasure and positive mood. It also raises

oxytocin, vasopressin, and prolactin levels, which are linked to attachment and bonding with others. Along with these changes, MDMA can temporarily reduce blood flow to the parts of the brain associated with fear.

Charley Wininger

Charley Wininger is one of the key figures in exploring MDMA as an aid to healthy relationships. He has been a psychotherapist since 1989. Licensed as a psychoanalyst and mental health counselor, he specializes in relationships and communication skills and is the author of the 2020 book, Listening to Ecstasy: The Transformative Power of MDMA.

Declaring that he was "done with hiding in the chemical closet," he poured his years of experience into this work, aiming to: "To legitimize happiness-inducing experiences as potentially transformative and valid in their own right." How he reached this point is quite a story.

In his youth, Charley first took MDMA as a party drug and initially dismissed it as "a substance without substance." Even in his 40s, as he built his career in psychotherapy, it didn't hold his attention. This (along with his whole life) changed when he re-experienced MDMA with the love of his life, Shelley Wininger. In this sense, Charley's story about MDMA is Shelley's as well because it was their experiences as a couple that showed him its true potential.

Together, they discovered that MDMA allowed them to tap extraordinary emotional strength, adding layers of closeness and joy to their relationship. It allowed them to feel safe. But it also allowed them to have fun and pleasurable experiences, and both of those things were ok. Already an accomplished mental health counselor and therapist, Charley also found that his experience with MDMA enhanced his ability to empathize with and relate to clients.

These experiences led to him becoming an early advocate for the therapeutic use of MDMA and his long-running association with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

The wisdom and knowledge contained in Listening to Ecstasy are hard to summarize. Charley and Shelley's experiences with MDMA aren't just with each other. They relate rolling in Prospect Park with friends, attending Philadelphia Experiment Summer Festival, and being told, "you guys make me feel less afraid of growing older!" So their relationship with this medicine isn't limited to clinical settings. Nonetheless, Charley's work is mindful of the scientific and safety considerations.

MDMA and relationships: the science

Commonly known as Ecstasy, molly, mandy, XTC, or simply X, MDMA was used in therapeutic settings before being criminalized in the 1980s. While being made illegal, research has stalled for almost 20 years. But recent work is again shining a light on how this remarkable compound can improve people’s lives.

The main area for current scientific investigations of MDMA is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with multiple studies showing profound reductions in PTSD symptoms. But this research also highlights broader benefits, with follow-up studies showing that most trial participants also experienced improved relationships.

These improvements are encouraging researchers to explore couple-specific therapies. In one recent study, couples where one partner had PTSD undertook Cognitive Behavioral Conjoint Therapy (CBCT) in combination with two supervised MDMA sessions. As expected, patients experienced improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, sleep, emotion regulation, and trauma-related beliefs. But the results also showed significant improvements in patient and partner perception of their relationship.

In follow-ups at three and six months after the MDMA sessions, both people in the relationships reported improvements in their ability to support each other and higher quality interactions with others. Partners reported reduced conflict in the relationship. Patients with PTSD reported improved cognitive and social functioning and more significant empathic concern for others. These changes were still in place at the six-month mark.

Research into the use of MDMA in couples therapy outside of a PTSD context is only beginning. But we have good reasons to think that it will be broadly applicable. A recent review and synthesis of the existing research suggests that MDMA-assisted couple therapy could produce beneficial outcomes via improvements in empathy, communication, perception of social connection/support, non-avoidance, openness, attachment/safety, bonding/social intimacy, and relationship satisfaction. MDMA-enhanced therapy could achieve this through multiple actions. MDMA tends to reduce social pain associated with thinking we're being rejected and allows people to more easily identify and experience challenging emotions. Because of these emotional changes, people can reflect on difficult memories without being overwhelmed by negative emotions. During the MDMA experience, people tend to be more open in communication and cooperative, enhancing the therapeutic process.

Multiple studies have confirmed that pure MDMA is safe and well-tolerated when used in controlled settings. Recent MAPS-funded trials reported very few adverse events, none of which were severe enough to require medication or medical intervention.

Can Molly Make You Fall In Love?

The MDMA experience can be profound. People who have used it report powerful feelings of closeness, warmth, and safety, as well as a sense of loving and being loved. Charley Wininger describes it as "the sun is rising in my heart." As previously mentioned, intensely visual psychedelic effects are less likely with pure MDMA, though many people notice a brightening of colors or an increase in their visual "sharpness" or acuity. Tactile sensations can become more intense and pleasurable. Even the experience of existing in our bodies can feel almost inexplicably pleasant. These themes of pleasure, beauty, and closeness occur again and again in first-hand accounts of MDMA experiences.

The anonymous author of the now-famous essay “Confessions of a middle-aged Ecstasy eater" described their experiences in terms that, if you haven't experienced them, can seem almost unbelievable: "Think of the best day of your life, or recall the sweetest, purest, most special thing along the way - person, place, moment, experience, accomplishment. Now multiply that tenfold." Likewise, many anonymous accounts of MDMA use on Erowid speak of experiencing profound clarity or contentment and feelings of safety and lack of social fear.

With MDMA’s potential to alter how we feel about ourselves and others in the moment, people sometimes ask if it can make us fall in love. Truthfully, the answer is no, though (Charley recommends against making important life decisions or first-time declarations of love while under its influence.) MDMA can’t force you to do anything. But it can open you to a new way of seeing things. As Charley describes, it is a kind of gateway drug: “It swings open the gate to tactile, emotional, and spiritual exploration, and opens the door to the heart.”[1]

It should come as no surprise that tales of healing are often woven into these experiences. The author of "Confessions," mentioned earlier, describes how MDMA helped him repair his relationship with his troubled son and, ultimately, with himself. Nestled inside many stories on Erowid of people taking MDMA and having awesome times at raves, there are tales of relationships being healed and difficult conversations being had.

It is worth noting that many of the reports online regarding Ecstasy may not be for pure MDMA. Unfortunately, due to its illegality in most places, much of what is sold as MDMA can be adulterated with other substances. People who feel highly stimulated or experience intense visual hallucinations may not have taken pure MDMA. It's also worth noting that acute health difficulties that people have experienced in recreational settings (e.g., music festivals) happen are associated with at least one of the following four factors: Pills/powders that are adulterated with other substances, people not being aware of how much MDMA they're taking, overheating, and over- or under-hydration. The same factors play a similar role in most negative experience reports on sites such as Erowid.

The grass is greenest where you water it

Research into MDMA and how it can improve couples' relationships and lives is ongoing. But the science is already suggesting that it can help enable profound benefits via communication, empathy, and closeness. This is strongly supported by many years of experience and anecdotes from couples who've taken MDMA together.

To be clear, MDMA isn't a magic pill that will magically cure your relationship problems. Powerful as it is, growing as individuals and as couples takes effort and commitment. Used mindfully and responsibly, MDMA can potentially assist you in doing the work of nurturing your relationships. But it will never do the work for you. As famous couples therapists, the Gottmans would say: "the grass is greener where you water it."

Nor does MDMA lead people to lose sight of what's real. It just changes your perspective. As joyful and fulfilling as his life is, Charley Wininger admits that there might be a lot in the world to feel discouraged or helpless about. But MDMA has taught him that the best response is to love anyway.

A note on safety and legality: We don't recommend doing anything illegal where you are. But, if you are going to take MDMA, for whatever reason, follow these safety tips from Global Drug Survey founder Professor Adam Winsock to keep your risk of harm as low as possible.

Would you like to explore how to create the best possible relationship with your partner? If your answer is yes, click here for more information on our Relationship Revolution course.

[1] p93


About the Author

Samuel Douglas, Ph.D. is a writer, philosopher, and drug law reform activist. Drawing on his academic background and lived experience, Samuel writes about current events in psychedelics and what they might mean for therapy, society, and the ordinary person just trying to make sense of it all. In 2021, he founded Psychedelic Overground, a business dedicated to providing psychedelic content and copywriting services that are authentic, accurate, and ethical. When not writing, teaching, or volunteering with the Australian Psychedelic Society, Samuel likes to garden and spoil his cat.

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