It looks like MDMA might help heal childhood bonding wounds, and that it does so through reopening the oxytocin-mediated window for social bonding. Here’s how.
Childhood and adolescence is when the foundations for our ways of relating to others are set. As adults we carry those relational patterns with us. Those who experience childhood relationship trauma often struggle in adult relationship, either being overly anxious and needy with others or being mistrustful of connections and avoidant of others, or even worse, both. In adulthood, these patterns are not easy to change and often lead to relationship failures that further reinforce those patterns of over-dependency and mistrust.
Childhood bonding is mediated by oxytocin, a bonding hormone that is abundantly present in the early years of life. Oxytocin makes one want to be close to others, at the same time helping make new brain connections that determine our later views of what relationships are all about. Oxytocin production decreases in adulthood, which results in a loss of the brain’s neuro plasticity (the brain’s ability to rewire itself in new ways), making the early-acquired patterns relatively fixed and unchanging. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many people with attachment difficulties are not aware of how their own attachment patterns contribute to their relationship struggles, as many have never experienced healthy secure bonds.
In a recent breakthrough study,* researchers showed that MDMA reopens the earlier critical windows for social bonding by stimulating oxytocin secretion, creating a childlike state of neuro plasticity, which then provides a chance to rewire the brain when exposed to a new healthy bonding experience. The idea is that this positive MDMA-induced bonding experience can then be generalized to everyday life and help one form healthy relationships, which of course is crucial to well-being. In fact, studies show that oxytocin levels are elevated for up to a month after a single administration of MDMA, giving people ample time to reintegrate positive relational experiences into their lives. If this explanation holds up with more research, we might soon have a powerful new tool to heal childhood relational trauma.
The knowledge that MDMA is a childlike bonding drug is very important to keep in mind for anyone deciding to use MDMA. MDMA makes one more sensitive, more suggestible, and more vulnerable in relationships, which also includes the danger of bonding with people that will not help one repair childhood wounds but might in fact contribute to the worsening of those wounds. One of the main goals of MDMA-Assisted Therapy is to provide a safe setting and professional guidance, so that one’s healing journey can be as safe, positive, and as effective as possible.
- “Oxytocin-dependent reopening of a social reward learning critical period with MDMA.” Nardou, Lewis, Rothhaas, Xu, Yang, Boyden, Dlen. Nature, Volume 569.