Researchers have taken to the lab to test the potential for MDMA, a seemingly unlikely candidate, to cure or alleviate symptoms of the debilitating ear condition known as tinnitus. Most people experience some kind of ringing in their ears after a weekend on one, but the condition can develop into a major struggle for many when it becomes full-blown tinnitus. 

When you spend your life moving from one speaker to the next, measuring the amount of damage to your ears is a difficult task until it’s often too late. Anyone exposed to loud noise for extended periods of time is at risk of developing tinnitus and may already exhibit symptoms. If you’re familiar with that ringing or buzzing noise in your ears after a concert or event, you’ve experienced a temporary onset of the condition, but there are millions out there who suffer from it chronically.

Currently, there are no scientifically proven cures for tinnitus, but there are many temporary treatment options and tools that act as coping mechanisms for those whose lives have become impaired by it. A couple years ago, researchers in New Zealand—where tinnitus affects one in five citizens—started looking into a possible cure which ironically may be rooted in MDMA, a substance that commonly accompanies the shows and festivals that expose us to such high levels of sound.

The MDMA treatment option began as a topic of conversation at the 2014 International Tinnitus Research Initiative in Auckland, a conference devoted to the study and discussion of the condition. Since then, the University of Auckland and University of Otago have teamed up to dive deeper into the topic.

Ahead of the task, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland and research lead Grant Searchfield said there were enough claims from those with tinnitus who had taken ecstasy for there to be strong interest in exploring it further. "There is no good research yet and that's something that we are hoping to do very soon.”

The related studies has been [going on] for the past two years and have enlisted small groups of participants within placebo-controlled trials. The subjects were given doses of MDMA too small to generate the euphoric, recreational ‘high’ that most users take it for; researchers administered doses of 30mg or 70mg of the drug—imported under tight control by pharmacists on the research team—over two separate trials. Reportedly, a significant amount of participants had experienced an ease of symptoms after three hours and some also noted that those effects were maintained for a week or more.

"Our goal is to try and find a medication for tinnitus. It can have catastrophic effects," Searchfield said. "Whether MDMA is it or whether it's a trial for us to identify what is going on in the brain is still an open question.”

It’s important to note the high placebo effect found in the study, so researchers are now utilizing brain imaging to analyze just how much of the results can be attributed to its psychological versus physiological effect. According to Stuff Magazine, Searchfield expects it to take a few months before researchers decide which route to take next, and would need additional funding to move forward.