Taking the drug Ecstasy with a partner can be useful in helping couples solve problems affecting their marriages, a new study has suggested.
Researchers say the Class A substance, also known as MDMA, can help to improve the "empathy and connection" between two people in their relationship.
A study carried out in Canada saw the drug given to couples in which one partner had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over a seven-week period.
Couples were given MDMA twice during cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy (CBCT) treatment, which traditionally involves therapy sessions to help reduce PTSD, during the trial.
Both members were given 75mg or 100mg of ecstasy, with an optional extra dose. Ecstasy use was found to have improved the “empathy and connection” between participants, experts said.
Professor Candice Monson, from Ryerson University, said: “The literature that inspired this study suggests that MDMA may allow people to talk about painful experiences without experiencing the pain again.
“The therapist can guide couples to talk about very difficult things that they’ve either experienced themselves or experienced together - against the other or with the other - with a greater sense of understanding, openness, connection, and empathy.
"It seems that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can engender empathy and connection, opening a pathway to remembering why came together in the first place and a desire to understand the other."
As the trial was uncontrolled, researchers say further studies are now scheduled to take place with more controls in place in order to confirm the accuracy of their "promising results".
The study is published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
Dr Ben Sessa, a consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College London, said MDMA, possession of which can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years in the UK, can be “extremely effective” in clinical or therapeutic contexts.
“MDMA is a drug which allows the user to address, reflect upon and resolve repressed emotional issues,” he said.
“It does this by switching the part of the brain that produces fear which allows you to address difficult memories, and psychological issues that you would normally repress or avoid.
“It has this tremendous ability to create a strong sense of empathy and in the context of couples, this ability to have empathy and to see the other person’s point of view is extremely valuable.”
Home Office figures show that between one and two per cent of Britons between the ages of 16 and 59 have used Ecstasy, which has previously been linked to treating alcohol addiction.
In addition to a short-term feeling of happiness, use of the drug can heighten surroundings and increase feelings of love and affection towards others.
However the effects of the drug can vary from person to person, and its use is usually followed by a comedown which can last for as long as a few days.
"There's some historical evidence from the 1980s that in a large proportion of cases, clients found relational improvements with MDMA," said Dr Brian Earp, of Oxford University.
"The inter-personal effects of these powerful drugs are just as important and they need to be studied as they will have these effects whether they are measured or not."
In February, academics at Oxford said what they described as “MDMA-enhanced couples’ therapy” could make a “big difference” as a last resort for couples in unfulfilling relationships.