Tag Archives: ecstasy

What is MDMA: party drug or therapeutic agent?

MDMA in pill form (ecstasy) and powder (molly). Credit: Flickr, Kripos_NCIS.

MDMA, short for 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a psychoactive drug whose effects can resemble those of both stimulants and psychedelics. The drug is known to produce distortions in time and perception, enhance the enjoyment of sensory experiences, and make people feel more energized. Its defining feature is that it increases self-awareness and empathy, which together enable a feeling of connectedness that many users report.

In its tablet or capsule form, MDMA is known as Ecstasy, whereas Molly — slang for ‘molecule’ or ‘molecular’ — refers to the crystalline powder form of MDMA. However, both versions may contain a number of other drugs that can be harmful and even life-threatening. In fact, sometimes drugs sold as Ecstasy or Molly do not even contain MDMA, which is replaced by other stimulants such as methylone or ethylone. Ecstasy tablets purchased on the street are often adulterated with methamphetamine, ketamine, caffeine, ephedrine, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), or over-the-counter cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan.

MDMA is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the world. The drug is often associated with raves and the party scene, although recently many people in their late 30s and 40s have started using MDMA at home due to its anxiety-relieving effects. In fact, the role of MDMA in clinical practice is going through a revival thanks to recent research showing it can treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and addiction. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted breakthrough therapy status to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

MDMA was first developed by the German pharmaceutical giant Merck in 1912. Initially, MDMA was known as “Methylsafrylaminc,” a precursor compound that the company used to synthesize medications designed to control bleeding.

For decades the drug was little known until it started gaining a small following among psychiatrists in the 1970s and early 1980s who recognized its therapeutic value by making patients more communicative and open about their problems. It’s worth noting that Alexander Shulgin, an American chemist and pharmacologist affiliated with the University of San Francisco, was the linchpin of MDMA research during these early days.

Shulgin was first introduced to MDMA in 1976 by one of his students at a course he was teaching at the time at San Francisco State University. The American chemist went on to develop a new synthesis method that made it much easier to make MDMA. He then went on to introduce the chemical to psychologists in California, which then spread to hundreds of psychologists and lay therapists around the nation who found small doses of MDMA greatly aided talk therapy. Some therapists called the drug ‘Adam’ since they believed MDMA helped patients return to a more innocent, primordial state.

The CIA took note as well and experimented with MDMA, along with other hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, as part of its MK-Ultra project that sought to assess whether psychedelics could be used for ‘mind control’. Although this secret project is notorious for testing psychedelic drugs on unwitting subjects, classified reports suggest that the CIA only used MDMA on non-human subjects. These experiments produced the first known toxicology studies on MDMA — given the codename EA-1475.

It was also around this time that MDMA started becoming widely available on the street. Eventually, the DEA banned MDMA in 1985 under its ‘War on Drugs’ policy, placing it on the list of Schedule I substances — along with LSD, heroin, and marijuana — that supposedly have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. To this day, MDMA is still classed as a Schedule I drug. Most of the MDMA in the U.S. is synthesized in clandestine labs in Canada and the Netherlands.

What are the effects of MDMA

Credit: Positivechoices.org.au.

It takes around 15 minutes for MDMA to circulate through the bloodstream and reach the brain, where it leads to psychoactive effects similar to both a stimulant and hallucinogen. These effects typically last three to six hours.

MDMA is classed as an empathogen, meaning it increases a user’s feeling of empathy and compassion towards others. The main action of MDMA in the brain is that it increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that, among other things, is responsible for regulating prosocial behavior, empathy, and optimism.

However, too much serotonin in the brain can trigger “serotonin syndrome”, which especially happens when MDMA is taken together with other drugs such as alcohol, amphetamines, or cocaine.

Some of the most common side effects of MDMA include euphoria, feeling energetic, dilated pupils, jaw clenching and teeth grinding, excessive sweating and skin tingles, muscle aches and pains, reduced appetite, accelerated heartbeat, high blood pressure, dehydration, and heatstroke.

Overdosing on MDMA or simply taking repeated doses of the drug over a long time can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, irrational behavior, anxiety, irritability, paranoia, vomiting, high body temperature, racing heartbeat, convulsions.

After the MDMA high wears off, most users will experience a 24- to 48-hour period during which they may feel lethargic, have a low appetite, or experience a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life (dysphoria, or the opposite of euphoria). Colloquially, this unpleasant period is known as “suicide Tuesday”, a reference to the fact that the crash happens after a heavy weekend of partying.

Tolerance of MDMA sets in rapidly, making users chase the euphoric effects with repeated doses. But rather than reaping the desirable effects, users who abuse MDMA and have high tolerance typically wind up experiencing more of the sympathomimetic effects, placing them at risk for cardiovascular instability, arrhythmias, and hyperthermia. Long-term abuse of MDMA can result in depression, memory and concentration problems, and liver problems.

Long-term use of MDMA can also cause dependence, although it is exceedingly rare compared with other highly addictive drugs such as cocaine or alcohol. Less than 1% of patients seeking drug treatment at clinics in Australia are for ongoing problems related to MDMA. MDMA is described as a “self-limiting” drug as the intensity of the positive effects decreases with increased use, while negative effects increase.

The spikes in blood pressure and heart rate can be dangerous for people with underlying cardiovascular problems. But perhaps the greatest risk of MDMA is that it raises body temperature, especially since its use is often accompanied by strenuous physical activity (such as dancing) in a hot environment such as a crowded venue or in the summer heat. This combination exacerbates fluid loss, which further interferes with the body’s ability to cool itself properly.

In the early 2000s, some public officials went on a crusade against ecstasy, which they nicknamed “agony”. Some warnings included that MDMA use can lead to Parkinson’s disease, a lifetime of depression, and even “holes in your brain”. Dr. John Halpern, a psychiatrist at Harvard University, thoroughly debunked these claims finding no evidence that ecstasy users have decreased cognitive performance.

The effects of MDMA can also vary because ecstasy and molly are often tainted with other substances, which have their own psychoactive effects when used alone or in combination with MDMA. Purchasing illegal substances off the street or in nightclubs is always a gamble because you can never be sure what’s inside. In 2018, a pill testing trial at a major music festival in Australia found that nearly half the pills tested were of low purity. Some 84% of people who had their pills tested thought they had bought MDMA but only 51% actually contained any MDMA. On the other end of the spectrum, pill tests in the UK and New Zealand have sometimes found up to three doses of MDMA in a single pill.

People have died as a result of taking MDMA, although the number of deaths is relatively low compared to other drugs such as heroin, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals. Most of the deaths are not directly from the drug itself but as a result of other complications or contaminants. There were 92 MDMA-related deaths in England and Wales in 2018, up from 56 the year before, and 10,000 hospitalizations for MDMA-related illness/injury in 2011 in the US.

Water intoxication and MDMA

People taking on MDMA should drink around 500ml of water an hour if they’re active and half of this amount if inactive in order to combat the dehydration effects of the drug. However, it’s easy to go overboard especially due to overheating from the venue and the effects of MDMA itself.

Unlike alcohol, MDMA is an antidiuretic, meaning it makes you retain water. When you have too much water in your body, the ratio of salts and water can be thrown off balance. Cells can start swelling with water, and the body can suffer from water intoxication, a condition called hyponatremia. Symptoms include headache, vomiting, and confusion or seizures. In some cases, water intoxication can lead to death.

MDMA-assisted therapy

Ecstasy has long been associated with rave culture, particularly electronic dance music (EDM) events. Raves refer to all-night dance parties characterized by loud music and a psychedelic atmosphere.

But more recently, MDMA is seeing a resurgence as a therapeutic drug, particularly for PTSD. There hasn’t been a new, effective drug meant to treat PTSD in nearly 20 years, but promising clinical trials performed since the previous decade have shown that MDMA might greatly enhance therapy.

The treatment protocol involves pure MDMA ingested in pill form that is not adulterated with any other substances. Moreover, the drug is always taken under the supervision of a specially-trained therapist over the course of a 12-week program. During this time, the patient will experience 2-3 daylong sessions, each lasting roughly 8 hours.

Therapists say that MDMA heightens feelings of safety and social connections, allowing patients to revisit traumatic memories and process all the terrible things they went through without triggering the same panic.

Speaking to NPR, Saj Razvi, a Colorado-based psychotherapist who was a clinical investigator in the Phase 2 trials of an MDMA study for PTSD, said that these sessions can look almost like a “bad trip”. But although they may seem nerve-wracking, MDMA-assisted therapies lead to emotional breakthroughs that otherwise “may take months or years to accomplish”.

After this phase 2 trial of MDMA-assisted therapy concluded in 2017, researchers found that 54% of the patients who took the drug improved their symptoms to the point that they no longer fit the diagnosis for PTSD, compared to 23% for the control group. What was particularly staggering was that the positive effects appeared to increase, rather than wane, over time. One year after their therapy, 68% of the participants who took MDMA no longer had PTSD.

Although MDMA is still a schedule I substance in the United States, researchers are able to perform clinical trials with the drug thanks to private sponsors such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The non-profit is now working to get the FDA on board in order to include MDMA in its expanded access program, which will allow patients to use MDMA.

Besides PTSD, research has found MDMA-assisted psychotherapy considerably reduces anxiety in autistic adults and terminally-ill cancer patients, as well as prevents alcoholism relapse.


MDMA reduces alcoholism relapse, new study shows

After a few doses of the drug and psychotherapy, there were almost no signs of relapse. In comparison, around 8 in 10 alcoholics relapse after existing treatments.

Although they are still illegal in virtually all countries, psychoactive drugs have been regarded with more and more interest by doctors, due to their potential in treating various mental conditions. MDMA, for instance, has been branded as a “breakthrough treatment” for PTSD, and has been shown to make people more social. In this pioneering study, consumption of MDMA (commonly known as “ecstasy”) has been shown to be safe in controlled conditions — and it has also shown potential in treating alcoholism.

The World Health Organization estimates that as of 2010, there are 208 million people with alcoholism worldwide. Around 17 million of them are in the United States — a whopping 7% of all adults. Treatments are varied because alcoholism is a multifaceted condition, but they are rarely very effective. Most treatments focus on helping people eliminate their alcohol intake, followed up with life training and/or social support to help them. This new treatment follows a similar approach, with an MDMA twist.

Alcoholism, like all forms of addiction, is usually based on an underlying trauma. If you are only eliminating alcohol consumption, you’re just treating the symptom, and the underlying condition is still there — and is very likely to rear its head again. This is what the MDMA does: it addresses the core issue.

“MDMA selectively impairs the fear response,” says Dr. Ben Sessa, an addiction psychiatrist and senior research fellow at Imperial College London, and who led the trial. “It allows recall of painful memories without being overwhelmed,” he told The Guardian.

The trial carried out in Bristol, UK, tested whether a combination of a few doses of the drug and psychotherapy can help patients overcome alcoholism effectively. It was only a small study, with 11 participants. However, the results are impressive.

Out of the 11 participants, none exhibited any significant side effects because of the treatment. Out of them, just one relapsed.

“We’ve got one person who has completely relapsed, back to previous drinking levels, we have five people who are completely dry and we have four or five who have had one or two drinks but wouldn’t reach the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder,” Sessa said.

Although it’s a small study and results need to be replicated on a larger sample size, the results are promising and warrant further investigation.

It’s also important to note that the drug was consumed in controlled settings, in a hospital, alongside a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Participants are given the drug and then spend 8 hours mostly lying down, with eyeshades and headphones. Patients also stay in the hospital overnight and have their sleep patterns monitored after going home.

“There is no black Monday, blue Tuesday, or whatever ravers call it. In my opinion, that is an artefact of raving. It’s not about MDMA,” said Sessa.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

MDMA makes people more cooperative towards trustworthy people — with important implications for psychotherapy

MDMA, also known as ecstasy, is known to make users more empathetic and willing to connect with other people. According to a new study, this may partly be explained by the drug’s ability to boost cooperative behavior. These findings suggest that MDMA causes changes in activity in brain regions linked to social processing, making it relevant for treating psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers at King’s College London gave 20 healthy adult men either a typical recreational dose of MDMA or a placebo. The participants then had to complete several tasks while in an MRI machine that scanned their brain activity, including the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is one of the most famous and most discussed case studies in both economics and psychology introductory classes. In this scenario, two prisoners are each isolated from one another and have to make one of two choices: either they turn the other in (sabotage) or remain silent (cooperate). If both players cooperate, they each receive some points (both win) but if one player chooses to compete, they receive all the points while the other player gets nothing (one wins, the other loses).

In this experiment, the participants thought they were playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma game with other real people. In fact, the other player was a pre-programmed computer response which would behave either in a trustworthy or untrustworthy manner throughout the various rounds of the game.

While under the influence of MDMA, participants were more inclined to cooperate than those who just received a placebo — but only when interacting with trustworthy players.

“We asked people what they thought of their opponent and, surprisingly, MDMA did not alter how trustworthy they thought the other players were. Untrustworthy players were rated as low on the scale, whether on MDMA or placebo, and trustworthy players were given equally high ratings,” senior author Professor Mitul Mehta said in a statement.

“Importantly, MDMA did not cause participants to cooperate with untrustworthy players any more than normal. In other words, MDMA did not make participants naively trusting of others.”

The MRI scans showed that while high on MDMA, participants had increased activity in the superior temporal cortex and mid-cingulate cortex, which are areas known to be important in understanding the thoughts, beliefs, and intentions of other people. More importantly, MDMA increased activity in the right anterior insular when the participants played the game with trustworthy players, and decreased activity in the brain region when processing the behavior of untrustworthy players. This shows that MDMA impacts the way we process other people’s behavior, rather than altering the decision-making process itself, the authors noted in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Some psychiatric conditions are underlied by improper brain activity connected to social behavior. Understanding how MDMA affects social interactions is important in the context of psychotherapy, where the drug could become a valuable tool in treating patients.

Right now, MDMA is currently undergoing phase 3 clinical trials for treating PTSD and has been given Breakthrough Therapy designation by the FDA.

Alcohol might lead to postsexual regret more than ecstasy or marijuana

A new psychological study reveals that drinking might lead to post-sex regret more than ecstasy or marijuana consumption.

Via Pixabay/bridgesward

According to the scientists, alcohol is more strongly associated with heightened perceived sexual effects like perceived sexual attractiveness of self and others, sexual desire, length of intercourse, and sexual outgoingness.

The paper, published in the journal Psychology & Sexuality, says that male participants experienced sexual dysfunction when consuming alcohol or taking MDMA (the main psychoactive ingredient in ‘ecstasy’ pills), but female participants suffered sexual difficulties when smoking pot. Interesting, right?

“A lot of studies suggest that the use of various drugs increases the chances for sexually risky behavior, but few have examined the actual sexual effects of drugs,” said Joseph J. Palamar of New York University, an author of the study, to the Psypost.

Ecstasy pills
Via Wikipedia

“Whether or not someone uses a condom while high is important. However, limiting research to this behavior really ignores the actual sexual responses associated with drug use that may in fact influence one’s decision to have sex with or without a condom.”

Scientists gathered interviews from 679 young people between the ages 18 and 25 right outside New York’s nightclubs and dance festivals. They found out that alcohol made them feel sexier than the other drugs.

“Each drug is associated with its own level of sexual risk,” said Palamar. “Alcohol is likely the riskiest as use is not only so common but also promoted throughout much of society. Even if sex itself isn’t risky while on alcohol, post-sex regret is extremely common as users may hook up with someone they normally wouldn’t have sex with.”

There was no surprise that ecstasy was found to be the drug most associated with an increased body and sex organ sensitivity, as well as increased sexual intensity. After all, its name speaks for itself.

The study has its limitations though: researchers only relied on self-reports. Another thing we ought to consider is that youngsters often mix these drugs up, and it’s rather difficult to say what substance has which effect. And let’s not forget that… well, users are prone to forget things when under the influence of psychoactive substances.

MDMA is now officially labelled a “breakthrough treatment” for PTSD

More commonly known as a party drug, MDMA (often going by the street name ‘Ecstasy’) likely has great therapeutic potential.

Many Marines return to the states with vivid memories of their combat experiences, and the array of emotions they face internally may be hard to deal with. Image credits: Marines from Arlington.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and life-threatening psychiatric condition with unmet medical need despite available treatments” — the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) announced the FDA’s ruling, emphasizing the need for more innovative treatments for PTSD.

According to official figures, at least 7 or 8 in a hundred Americans will struggle with the disorder at some point in their lives. Some will never get rid of it. Some will be driven to suicide. It’s a complex and far reaching problem that disproportionately affects people in the military, for reasons that are easy to understand. Well, this new avenue for treatment gives unexpected hope to these millions of people.

Drugs versus disorders

It’s not the first time psychedelic drugs have been suggested as therapy for PTSD. It’s actually something that researchers have recommended for a long time. In 2012, MDMA has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD, though in a small trial. That same year, researchers also showed that the drug was safe for consumption in a regulated setting. Earlier this year, the findings were echoed over a larger spectrum of drugs, including LSD — though again, it was a small trial. This is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to studying the potential of such substances: it’s virtually impossible to set up a large-scale trial. Well, that will change now, as a Phase 3 trial has been approved for the first time. Phase 3 trials are randomized controlled multicenter trials on large patient groups, with at least 300 participants.

“For the first time ever, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy will be evaluated in Phase 3 trials for possible prescription use, with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD leading the way,” said Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of MAPS.

For anyone who ever took MDMA, it’s probably easy to understand why: for starters, it makes you feel very good. But there’s much more to it than that. The drug fills the user’s brain with the neurotransmitters that not only make them feel good, but also help them deal with painful memories. Basically, every time you recall a memory, you’re firing up some neurons. The neurons have a tendency to use the same connections time and time again — basically, walking on the beaten path — which means that a fearful memory will likely remain fearful. But new connections can also be made, and therefore the memory can be revised and dealt with. This is where MDMA helps. Simply put, it can use some of that feel-good to make fearful memories less fearful. Of course, taking the drug in a safe, controlled environment is a completely different experience than taking it at a party, and that’s what scientists are recommending here.

Not perfect, but promising

MAPS has been conducting MDMA trials since 1986, hoping to demonstrate its value to authorities. In one study, 67 percent of PTSD patients had no signs of the disorder after three MDMA therapy sessions. Just 23 percent of patients who didn’t take MDMA reported similar results. Another study tracked the long-term development of 16 patients who were unresponsive to any kind of treatment. Two of them had relapses — but the rest were cured following MDMA sessions.

In that sense, this isn’t a breakthrough in science, but rather in acceptance, both legal and social.

“This is not a big scientific step,” David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, explained to Science. “It’s been obvious for 40 years that these drugs are medicines. But it’s a huge step in acceptance.”

Of course, this isn’t going to magically make PTSD disappear. It’s probably not going to work for everyone. Few treatments do. Some psychologists argue that giving people ecstasy isn’t going to help anyone, or that the treatment itself is unnecessary. But previous trials show that the treatment is effective, at least most of the time. It could drastically improve the lives of millions and it could save a lot of lives. If that’s not worth fighting against prejudice, then I don’t know what is.

The first Phase 3 trial (MAPP1), “A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Multi-Site Phase 3 Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Manualized MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Severe Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” will begin enrolling subjects in Spring 2018,

FDA approves final trial before Ecstasy can be prescribed for PTSD

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is one of the hardest to treat psychiatric disorders. Only 30 to 40 percent of patients ever manage a recovery, even then after many years of counseling and medication. Illicit psychoactive drugs like psilocybin (magic mushrooms) or MDMA (the active psychoactive substance in Ecstasy) have been shown to be far more successful in treating not only PTSD, but also addiction and depression. Recognizing this progress, the FDA has approved the third and final clinical trial meant to establish the efficacy of ecstasy-assisted PTSD therapy. If deemed successful, the FDA will make the drug available through prescription maybe as early as 2021.

Since 1985, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies or MAPS has supported the use of certain illicit substances like psilocybin, cannabis, LSD or the common party drug ‘ecstasy’ in conjunction with assisted therapy. MAPS has carried out its own research in the matter and has funded clinical trials performed by other groups, including six Phase 2 studies treating a total of 130 PTSD patients with ecstasy. MAPS will also fund Phase 3 which should include 230 patients.

Our overall Phase 2 study results have been extremely promising, having treated 107 subjects with chronic PTSD. 53% of 74 participants no longer qualified for PTSD after two to three MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions, compared to 23% who received placebo or comparator dose. Of 65 subjects interviewed one year after treatment, 66% no longer had PTSD,” reads a statement from MAPS.

Among the patients included in the trials so far were combat veterans, sexual assault victims, policemen, and firefighters. Most patients did not respond to traditional PTSD therapy and, on average, have been struggling with PTSD symptoms for 17 years. However, after only three doses of MDMA the patients reported a 56 percent decrease in the severity of symptoms on average. Two-thirds of participants no longer reported PTSD symptoms by the end of the study and these effects lasted for at least a year following the drug-assisted therapy.

“We can sometimes see this kind of remarkable improvement in traditional psychotherapy, but it can take years, if it happens at all,” said Dr. Michael C. Mithoefer, the psychiatrist who conducted the trials in Charleston, South Carolina. “We think it works as a catalyst that speeds the natural healing process.”

The results so far are very promising, which is why MAPS has applied for “breakthrough” therapy status for Trial 3. This will speed up the approval process and prescriptions could become available as early as 2021.

Besides PTSD, MAPS is also funding research that looks into the therapeutic value of MDMA for treating anxiety-related disorders. 

“It’s a really interesting and a very powerful new approach,” Thomas Insel, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not just taking MDMA. It’s taking it in the context of a treatment that involves improved insight and increased skills and using this in the broader context of psychotherapy.”

Some doctors are more cautious, though. Andrew Parrott, a psychologist at Swansea University in Wales, told the NYT that handing out prescriptions for MDMA could lead to a new wave of drug abuse. MAPS and the doctors involved in the trials so far stress that, in this setting, MDMA is no longer party drug. It’s a therapy-enhancing substance which is permitted to be taken only in the presence of a therapist. I would also add that ecstasy pills, which often don’t even contain MDMA but other analogous substances and potentially lethal impurities, is readily available on the street in most urban environments in the United States. If people want to abuse it, it’s easier to find ecstasy now than it will ever be using a prescription.

For many patients, MDMA is already life saver but, ultimately, the decision whether or not MDMA is deemed safe and effective in therapy is in the FDA’s hands.

“It gave me my life back, but it wasn’t a party drug,” said Edward Thompson, a 30-year-old former firefighter and alcoholic. “It was a lot of work.”


Norwegian Researchers Are Crowdfunding to Make Psychedelics and MDMA Free for Global Medical Use Share Tweet

As more and more researchers are starting to highlight the potential benefits of Psychedelic substances, one recent Norwegian campaign is aiming high: they’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to make psychedelics and MDMA legal for research and global medical use.

In the past years, we’ve written about several studies documenting the positive effects that psychedelics may have, in a controlled environment and under strict medical supervision. Not only are psychedelics not linked to mental health problems, but they can be used to deal with addiction, reduce suicide rates and amplify the brain’s dream areas. MDMA (sometimes referred to as ecstasy, though the two are not always synonyms) is pretty much in the same boat – a 2012 report concluded that MDMA consumption is safe for adults in a controlled environment, and it showed great promise in dealing with PTSD.

Motivated by all this and more, Norwegian advocacy group EmmaSofia is campaigning to raise $1 million to synthesize psychedelics and MDMA for medical use, to make them available for researchers all across the world – to study, of course.

If a researcher wants to study the effect of psychedelic substances (or any other type of study related to them), he’s in for a lot of work. Getting approval for this type of study is never easy, and many institutes and universities will downright reject this type of study. Even if the approval is given, you still have to get access to, or synthesize the substances. This entire process takes a lot of time and effort and resources, up to the point where most scientists will simply give up. Enter EmmaSofia.

EmmaSofia is a non-profit organization based in Oslo, Norway, working to increase access to quality-controlled MDMA (‘ecstasy’) and psychedelics. EmmaSofia is collaborating with a pharmaceutical firm in Norway that already has all the necessary licenses to manufacture MDMA and psychedelics according to “current good manufacturing practice” (cGMP) – the international standard for quality-controlled, medical-grade pharmaceuticals. They’ve estimated the costs of making MDMA and psylocibin (one of the more common psychedelics) available for the world to study is $300.000.

It’s not the first time scientists have turned to crowdfunding to bypass the biased and rigid academic funding system. US non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has collected over $177,000 using multiple crowdfunding campaigns, and received $81,000 from a Reddit campaign, while British researcher David Nutt managed to collect over £40,000 within 24 hours in a crowdfunding campaign last week to make scans of a brain on LSD.

But this is different – this aims to provide access to the entire world, every doctor in every state and country, to psylocibin and MDMA.

“A licensed doctor anywhere in the world can then go to his or her pharmacy, and order it from us,” Johansen explains. “Storage and shipping will be handled by a licensed company that delivers medicines to pharmacies. This infrastructure is already in place for all other medication that needs to be shipped abroad, and is possible if all parties are properly licensed.”

The psilocybin and MDMA would be free of charge, paid for with funds from the IndieGoGo campaign. However, until now, they’ve gathered just over $8,000 of their goal. Personally, I think properly studying psychedelics is way overdue, and the medical potential is huge; ideally, governments and research institutes would understand this and work towards this end, but crowdfunding seems like a good alternative. What do you think?

Marijuana is much safer than tobacco and alcohol, study concludes

A new study has concluded that substances like alcohol or tobacco are much more dangerous than marijuana. Alcohol is actually the most dangerous substance studied here – more dangerous than heroin, cocaine, ecstasy or meth.

marijuanamarijuana bun

Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances – be they legal or illegal. Despite often being thought of as similar in some regards, weed and alcohol are actually on opposite ends of the spectrum – with weed being 114 times safer than alcohol.

“The toxicological approach validates epidemiological and social science-based drug ranking approaches especially in regard to the positions of alcohol and tobacco (high risk) and cannabis (low risk)”, the study reads. “Our results confirm previous drug rankings based on other approaches. Specifically, the results confirm that the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past”.

The study used a slightly different methodology than previous research, but their results are coherent with previous reports. They used the margin of exposure (MOE) approach. The MOE is defined as ratio between toxicological threshold (benchmark dose) and estimated human intake.

Still the fact that alcohol is more dangerous than heroin for example should not be understood as the pound per pound danger – much of the dangers related to the drug consumption (alcohol included here) come not directly from consumption, but also from the environmental conditions and secondary effects.

Of course, weed being “safer than alcohol” doesn’t make it “safe” – it’s still not a recommended substance, it just means that the risks have been overestimated by both medical researchers and policy makers. There are still risks associated with marijuana consumption – like sleep impairment, a halt in brain development and a loss of overall pleasure in life. But this being said, many common substances can have significant negative effects – eat too much sugar and you’ll become overweight, have bad teeth and maybe even diabetes. The difference is in the way these substances are managed.

Image via Creative Commons.

“Many governments in Europe have favoured more restrictive policies with respect to illicit drugs than for alcohol or tobacco, on the grounds that they regard both illicit drug abuse and related problems as a significantly larger problem for society. Drug rankings can therefore be useful to inform policy makers and the public about the relative importance of licit drugs (including prescription drugs) and illicit drugs for various types of harm,” authors say. In other words, we’re dealing with a double standard here – alcohol and tobacco, which are much more dangerous then marijuana are legal, while marijuana is illegal.

I just wish organizations fighting against marijuana legalization would focus on more dangerous substances – like alcohol and tobacco. Legal drugs are killing us more than illegal drugs.

“Currently, the MOE results point to risk management prioritization towards alcohol and tobacco rather than illicit drugs. The high MOE values of cannabis, which are in a low-risk range, suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach”, the study concludes.

Journal Reference: Dirk W. Lachenmeiera and Jürgen Rehm. Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach. Published online 2015 Jan 30. doi:  10.1038/srep08126


Stunning pictures of drugs as you’ve never seen them before

Most people have a heart time putting into words what they experience when under the influence of some psychoactive drug – but Sarah Schönfeld decided to make this experience visual. The experiment was meant to transpose the change into another kind of sensory experience, so she put drugs on a photonegative and then enlarged the image. The goal was observing the reaction of negative film to both legal and illegal combinations of substances to which it was exposed. Here are the results:



SPEED – methamphetamine, C10H15N, it is a very powerful stimulant, chemically related to amphetamine, but with more severe side effects. It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.

Speed + Magic

Speed + Magic

SPEED + MAGIC – the combination between methamphetamine and mephedrone also lies in the category of amphetamines. Although there are the long-term effects that are more serious, there have been reported cases with people hospitalized because of the short-term ones.



MAGIC – mephedrone’s main effects include euphoria, alertness and a strong feeling of affection towards anyone around the consumer. On the bad side, there are paranoia and anxiety.



MDMA – ecstasy or X, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is another amphetamine. The typical effects would have to be somewhere between 3 to 6 hours, and the consumer will feel alert and hyper at first, maybe lose track of time.



LSD – lysergic acid diethylamide is a psychadelic drug from the ergoline family. Some of the most common psychological effects are synesthesia, an altered sense of time and spiritual experiences.



KETAMINE (Special K)- anesthetic, also a pain killer. When taken excessively leads to a special kind of hallucinations.



HEROIN – diacetylmorphine or morphine diacetate is an opioid analgesic and it’s associated with tolerance and strong physical dependence.



GHB – 4-hydroxybutanoic acid is a substance naturally found in the human central nervous system. It is an aesthetic, but a recreational drug as well.



ECSTASY – Recreational drug, its most common psychological feelings are lack of anxiety and a sense of intimacy, euphoria and mild psychedelia.

Crystal Meth

Crystal Meth

CRYSTAL METH – metamphetamine, psychostimulant used as a recreational drug. Used in small amounts, it gives a boost of energy.



COCAINE – benzoylmethylecgonine is a stimulant, appetite suppressant, it is considered more dangerous than the entire amphetamine drug class.



CAFFEINE – bitter, white, crystalline xanthine alkaloid, it paralyzes and kills some insects when found in natural environments.




ADRENALINE – epinephrine is a hormone and a neurotransmitter, it’s mostly used in medical purposes. Occasionally, there are situations in which it’s used as a recreational drug.



VALIUM – Diazepam, it’s used in treating anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia. Anterograde amnesia is one of the side effects, as well as sedation.

EDIT: We originally had a wrong title for this, claiming that these are images taken under a microscope. Sarah Schoenfeld was kind enough to contact us and fix that error.

Ecstasy shows more promise in post traumatic stress

There’s already a heating debate about legalizing MDMA (the active substance) in ecstasy, especially since it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the substance can be used in therapeutic purposes – particularly in treating post-traumatic stress.

Hundreds of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) are seeking help from a married couple who work in their suburban home in South Carolina. Many of them are actually traveling the distance to get there, desperate that this is their last hope – but they’re not going up for any conventional treatment. Their drug of choice is MDMA, used rather at raves and college parties than in therapy; and it works.


“I feel survivor’s guilt, both for coming back from Iraq alive and now for having had a chance to do this therapy,” said Anthony, a 25-year-old living near Charleston, S.C., who asked that his last name not be used because of the stigma of taking the drug. “I’m a different person because of it.”

In a paper published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Michael and Ann Mithoefer, the husband-and-wife team offering the treatment which combines classical psychoterapy techniques with MDMA usage wrote that 15 out or 21 people who were treated in 2000 report no symptoms today. According to patients, the key effect is that the drug gives a mental sweet spot that allows them to discuss the trauma without being terrified or overwhelmed by it.

“It changed my perspective on the entire experience of working at ground zero,” said Patrick, a 46-year-old living in San Francisco, who worked long hours in the rubble after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks searching in vain for survivors, as desperate family members of the victims looked on, pleading for information. “At times I had this beautiful, peaceful feeling down in the pit, that I had a purpose, that I was doing what I needed to be doing. And I began in therapy to identify with that.”.

So, what do you think? Should MDMA be used as therapy for PTS?

Ecstasy use ‘safe for adults’, B.C. health officials declare

Dr. Perry Kendall, one of B.C.’s leading health officials says taking pure ecstasy, without any other substances, is totally safe for adults – when consumed responsibly.

MDMA and street ecstasy

MDMA, the pure substance originally synonymous with ecstasy was thought to be responsible for a series of deaths, but according to Dr. Kendall, the life-threatening danger appears only when the drug is polluted by money-hungry gangs who cook it up. That’s why, furthermore, Kendall is advocating the legalization of MDMA, selling it through licensed, government-run stores where the product is strictly regulated, much like alcohol.

Just like the growing voice chanting a chorus for marijuana legalization, Kendall believes crushing the black market associated with ecstasy sale will greatly reduce violence and other related incidents, and usage rates will also decline.

“(If) you knew what a safe dosage was, you might be able to buy ecstasy like you could buy alcohol from a government-regulated store,” Kendall said in an interview.

He was, of course, asked if, after studies and regulations, usage of the product would be safe.

“Absolutely,” he responded. “We accept the fact that alcohol, which is inherently dangerous, is a product over a certain age that anybody can access. “So I don’t think the issue is a technical one of how we would manage that. The issue is a political, perceptual one.”

Police estimate some 20 people from the British Columbia alone die due to street ecstasy consumption each year. However, Kendall and his colleagues believe this happened due to a mutation of the drug, likening it to the wave of bootleg beverages during the 1920s prohibition era.

“Methyl alcohol led to huge rates of morbidity and mortality in the United States under alcohol prohibition because of illicit alcohol manufacturing,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a lead researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and internationally-recognized expert in drug addiction and related policies. “PMMA is a natural and expected consequence of the prohibition on ecstasy.”

Medical effects of MDMA

According to medical literature, MDMA sends waves of serotonin and noradrenaline flooding towards the brain, basically releasing pleasure and energy, making users more sociable, happy, and agitated. A series of potential side effects are associated with consumption, including teeth grinding, sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, anxiety, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and convulsions, even at low doses; nothing lethal though.

However, the drug’s letdown includes feelings of confusion, irritability, anxiety, paranoia and depression, and people may experience memory loss or sleep problems, jaundice or liver damage. According to officials, the ecstasy-related deaths occur as a result of dehydration and overheating after users take the pill and dance the night away. Taking MDMA also greatly interacts with any other medication, usually with devastating effects.

Smart kids more likely to take drugs in adulthood

A new study which capitalized on an extensive ongoing survey, shows that children with high IQs, especially girls, are more likely to indulge in illicit drug use in their 30’s than people with lower IQs.

Dr. James White of Cardiff University and his team of researchers used data gathered from the British Cohort Study, an ongoing social experiment first started in the 1970’s, which follows and surveys 8,000 individuals from their childhood to present day. The population based study examined lifetime drug use, socioeconomic factors and educational attainment. Factors such as social class and levels of depression were controlled for.

The data from the study shows that, by the age of 30, one in three men and one in six women had used marijuana in the previous years. As for cocaine,  the figures were 8.6 percent of men and 3.6 percent of women, with a similar pattern of use for the other drugs.

The participants had their IQ scores measured at age 5 and 10. Confidential psychological distress and drug use surveys were made for each participant at age 16, and 30. Assessed drugs included cannabis and cocaine, while for the most recent survey of 30 year olds, amphetamine and ecstasy had also been added.

When the researchers correlated IQ scores with drug use, a curious stat emerged. Men with high IQ scores at the age of five were around 50 percent more likely to have used amphetamines and ecstasy as adults, and the link becomes ever more evident when studying women. Seems women were more than twice as likely to have used cannabis and cocaine as those with low IQ score – despite fully understanding the negative effects of drug use.

“Although most studies suggest that higher child or adolescent IQ prompts the adoption of a healthy lifestyle as an adult, other studies have linked higher childhood IQ scores to excess alcohol intake and alcohol dependency in adulthood,” says Dr White.

“Although it is not yet clear exactly why there should be a link between high IQ and illicit drug use, previous research has shown that people with a high IQ are more open to new experiences and keen on novelty and stimulation.”

The report was published in the latest issue of Medical News Today

Bad science: injecting meth instead of ecstasy for trials

It never ceases to amaze me how this kind of idiotic, or perhaps even intentionally wrong studies are published and accepted by the world. What am I talking about ? Well, you know those pamphlets and promotional stuff that show your brain with holes in it when you take ecstasy, or that you will get Parkinson and all that ? It was based on a study which injected monkeys with ecstasy; only they didn’t inject them with ecstasy – they injected them with crystal meth ! Hey, and that’s not the only wrong thing here.

Crystal meth; do they look the same to you ?

The study published by the John Hopkins University was thankfully retracted, but the misinformational damage it caused is still in effect, despite the fact that there is no connection between ecstasy and Parkinson. Now, I’m not a drug advocate here, I can understand how two entirely different drugs can get mixed… by your local dealer, perhaps, who is a junkie himself. But to do this in a lab, and not any lab, but a John Hopkins lab – that’s downright criminal.

But wait, there’s more ! Not only did they inject the monkeys with meth, but they injected them with enormous quantities of it, every 3 to 9 hours ! This seems like a fairly good animal cruelty trial if you ask me, especially as 2 out of 3 monkeys dropped dead before they could be given their 3rd (!) dose. If you ask me, these findings would suggest that every 1 in 5 ecstasy users should drop dead pretty soon, right ? John Hopkins, of course, jumped in the defence of their research, but come on now. They injected the wrong drug; the dosage and timespan is absolutely nuts !

Read more about why this keeps happening here