Empathogens are drugs that induce feelings of empathy and connection. Empathogens are also sometimes referred to as entactogens. The most well-known empathogen is probably 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — known as MDMA, molly, or ecstasy. Ecstasy is known for making people feel open, accepting, and connected with others.

Empathogens were originally named so for their ability to induce empathy. However, some scientists, including Dr. David Nichols of Purdue University, suggested renaming this class of drugs to “entactogens.” In the 1990s, Nichols observed that empathogen created a negative connotation because it contains the word pathogen — which means a microorganism that can cause disease. Today, both terms are widely used in the scientific community.


Empathogen drugs are sometimes used recreationally. They have quite a reputation for making people feel euphoric and friendly in social situations.

But these entactogens also have some potentially powerful applications when used therapeutically.

Research indicates that MDMA, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, can help patients feel more comfortable exploring past trauma and working through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

MDMA also holds promise as part of a treatment plan for depression and anxiety as well.

MDMA as breakthrough therapy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has named MDMA, the most widely-known and studied entactogen, a breakthrough therapy for PTSD.

This means that MDMA has promising clinical data as a PTSD treatment — enough that the FDA is sending it on a fast-track to full approval.