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The terms empathogen and entactogen are used to describe a class of psychoactive drugs that produce distinctive emotional and social effects similar to those of MDMA ("Ecstasy"). Putative members of this class include MDMA, MDA, MDEA, MBDB, and AET, among others. The chemical structure of most entactogens contains a substituted amphetamine core, and most belong to the phenethylamine class of psychoactive drugs, although several (AET and AMT) are tryptamines. When referring to MDMA and its counterparts, the term 'MDxx' is often used with the exception of MDPV. Entactogens are often incorrectly referred to as major hallucinogens or stimulants, although their effects are often somewhat characteristic of such.

The term "empathogen" was coined in 1983 by Ralph Metzner to denote chemical agents inducing feelings of empathy. "Entactogen" was coined by David E. Nichols as an alternative to "empathogen", attempting to avoid the potential for improper association of the latter with negative connotations related to the Greek root "pathos" (suffering); Nichols also thought the word was limiting, and did not cover other therapeutic uses for the drugs that go beyond instilling feelings of empathy. The word "entactogen" is derived from the roots "en" (Greek: within), "tactus" (Latin: touch) and "gen" (Greek: produce) (Nichols 1986: 308). Neither term is dominant in usage, and, despite their difference in connotation, they are essentially interchangeable, as they refer to precisely the same chemicals.

These drugs appear to produce a different spectrum of psychological effects from major stimulants such as methamphetamine and amphetamine or from major psychedelic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin. As implied by the category names, users of entactogens say the drugs often produce feelings of empathy, love, and emotional closeness to others. However, there have been only very preliminary comparisons of these different drugs in humans in properly-controlled laboratory studies.

If MDMA is taken as a representative entactogen, the pharmacological mechanisms of this class—increased extracellular dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—closely resemble those of methamphetamine. In a study of rodents, MDMA was recently shown to induce release of oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter involved in social bonding.[1] This may contribute to the emotional effects of MDMA. However, many other serotonergic drugs also increase oxytocin without producing the unusual effects of MDMA. Entactogens other than MDMA have received relatively little scientific attention, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the mechanisms of entactogens in general.

Other types of drugs, such as members of some branches of the opioid family and other centrally-acting drugs, are known to produce characteristic forms of euphoria which may serve as the basis for development of empathogenic effects under various circumstances. The inclusion of some or all members of this diverse group under the heading of empathogen-entactogen is a matter of debate in many circles. The Wikipedia articles for given drugs in this category (e.g. oxymorphone, orphenadrine, dextromoramide, chlorpheniramine, cyclobenzaprine, scopolamine and others) include information about the history and current "re-discovery" of empathogenic, euphorigenic, antidepressant, anxiolytic, sociability-promoting and other related effects of these drugs.


  1. ^ Emma Young, "Ecstasy really does unleash the love hormone," NewScientist (04 April 2007).
  • Nichols, D.E., Hoffman, A.J., Oberlender, R.A., Jacob P 3rd & Shulgin A.T. Derivatives of 1-(1,3-benzodioxol-5-yl)-2-butanamine: representatives of a novel therapeutic class 1986 J Med Chem 29 2009-15
  • Nichols, D.E. Differences between the mechanism of action of MDMA, MBDB, and the classic hallucinogens. Identification of a new therapeutic class: entactogens 1986 J Psychoactive Drugs 18 305-13

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