Tag Archives: mdma

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.


The world’s first LSD-MDMA clinical trial is about to kick off

It’s the first time the two have been studied together, and scientists believe they could one day be used to treat some mental conditions.

“We’re not developing this so people can have a better rave,” one researcher said.

Image credits: Amy Shamblen.

They call it candyflipping on the street, and while it’s been a known combo since the 1980s, it also caught the attention of researchers in recent years. Candyflipping, the combination of MDMA and LSD, seems to increase the potency and duration of MDMA-like effects, while decreasing the chance of overdosing on MDMA. At the same time, it retains some of the extreme hallucinogenic effects of LSD, making for (presumably) a heck of a ride.

But psychedelics have also emerged as a potential treatment for multiple mental conditions, with multiple trials being carried out, from alcoholism relapse to anxiety. Now, the first mixed LSD-MDMA trial is about to begin.

The trial, a Phase 1 trial on 24 participants, will assess whether the drug combo is safe for human consumption. The trial is carried out by psychedelic drug development startup Mind Medicine Inc., based in New York City. The company’s founder and CEO JR Rahn saying that the drugs could one day pave the way for FDA approved treatments although that day may not come very soon.

The participants will receive different combinations of placebos and drugs; the ones actually getting the drugs will get 100 μg of LSD and 100 mg of MDMA — a substantial dose bound to trigger a hallucinatory experience.

But in addition to triggering trippy experiences, both drugs could (under the right circumstances) have therapeutic potential. MDMA has been shown to induce positive feelings like empathy and trust, while LSD might reduce feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Researchers hope that a combination of the two could optimize the psychedelic experience and, over a therapy session, have a lasting positive impact.

Of course, this shouldn’t be read as “LSD cures your paranoia”. Rahn emphasizes that the drugs are to be used in a specialized setting, under supervised conditions, and even then, the alleged effects of the drugs are to be analyzed.

This marks quite the transition for both MDMA and LSD. Officially considered Schedule I controlled substances (with a high potential for abuse and no medical value), the two have enjoyed surge in interest from researchers, both having the potential to become ‘breakthrough treatments‘. In truth, a minority of researchers have long considered the potential of such psychedelic drugs, but research only recently became possible, as the legislation and the stigma around the drugs eased up.

Already, a nonprofit organization called Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is launching a Phase 3 clinical trial on MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD — one of the areas where MDMA has shown most promise. If the trial results are positive, the door for treatment approval is essentially open. The LSD-MDMA trial is only the latest of Mind Medicine’s trials. Others include a trial for small, non-hallucinogenic doses of LSD to treat anxiety, while another uses the same approach for dealing with anxiety.

The company stresses that this type of treatment won’t be a regular pill you take, like today’s antidepressants. For Rahn, “staying on a pill a day for the rest of your life” is not a solution. Instead, these hallucinogenic treatments are envisioned as semi-regular treatment sessions. Instead, it would be more like therapy. You’d go on a supervised psychedelic session with a therapist and then have several sessions where you just talk and discuss, and then maybe just have one therapy session a year.

If the therapeutic potential of drugs like LSD or MDMA is confirmed, it could be a major breakthrough in the field of mental therapy. However, for all the hype around this potential type of treatment though, there is still much left to be proven.

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.

California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides). Credit: Thomas Kleindinst.

MDMA or ‘ecstasy’ makes octopuses more social, too

People who take MDMA, a common recreational drug which is also known as Molly or ecstasy, feel a sensation of elation and the urge to connect with others. Now, a fascinating new study suggests that this applies to octopuses too, despite the fact that we’re separated by 500 million years of evolution.

California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides). Credit: Thomas Kleindinst.

California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides). Credit: Thomas Kleindinst.

MDMA acts by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters in the central nervous system: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The emotional and pro-social effects of MDMA are likely caused directly or indirectly by the release of large amounts of serotonin, which influences mood (as well as other functions such as appetite and sleep). Serotonin also triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which play important roles in love, trust, sexual arousal, and other social experiences.

Gul Dolen, an Assistant Professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, along with colleagues, studied the California two-spot octopus (Octopus bimaculoides), a species that is less challenging to work with in laboratory conditions. It’s also the only octopus to have its genome fully sequenced, allowing the researchers to make a gene-by-gene comparison with the human genome.

Researchers gave some octopuses a dose of MDMA and then studied their behavior. What they saw surprised them, considering the solitary nature of O. bimaculoides. Individuals under the influence of the drug spent more time with other octopuses, both male and female. The most striking behavior, however, was that they engaged in extensive ventral surface contact — in other words, they were very touchy-feely. The typically rare physical contact between the octopuses was non-violent and more exploratory in nature.

“Despite anatomical differences between octopus and human brain, we’ve shown that there are molecular similarities in the serotonin transporter gene,” Dolen said in a statement. “These molecular similarities are sufficient to enable MDMA to induce prosocial behaviors in octopuses.”

These findings show that O. bimaculoides share the same serotonin transporter gene with humans, which is known to serve as the principal binding site of MDMA. So it seems like this is an ancient neurotransmitter system shared across vertebrate and invertebrate species, which evolved hundreds of millions of years ago.

Of course, the serotonin system did not evolve to get creatures high but rather to enable complex social behaviors. For instance, the octopus may rely on this common pathway to behave socially during the mating season.

In the future, the researchers plan on sequencing the genomes of two other species of octopus, which are closely related to each other but differ in their behaviors. This way, they hope to gain more insight into the evolution of social behavior.

The findings appeared in the journal Current Biology.

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.”


MDMA and autism reserach

Ecstasy might be used to relieve Anxiety in Autistic adults in new clinical trial

Some researchers are considering a pilot treatment that involves MDMA, the active psychoactive ingredient in ecstasy pills, to help adults diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) ooze out anxiety.  ASD adults typically report difficulties in bonding with other people and often feel nervous in a social setting. Though illegal in the United States, MDMA has been recently explored for psychotherapeutic purposes with promising results reported in battling addiction or post traumatic stress disorder. If it receives approval – and there’s a great deal of paperwork that needs to be filled before they get the green light – this would make it the first MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of social anxiety in autistic adults.

MDMA and autism reserach

Image: Autism Daily

The team – a join venture between the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies – published the proposed methods and study rationale in  Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological PsychiatryWhile there’s a potential for addiction and abuse, in small doses and under a controlled setting MDMA is considered safe. Somewhat similar in structure and psychoactive effects to amphetamines and mescaline, MDMA reportedly makes people feel less vulnerable and more open. In one survey of users, 72% reported that the drugs made them “more comfortable in social settings,” and 12% further noted that this effect persisted for more than two years.

People with an ASD often find social situations very difficult. There are so many social rules that people without an ASD learn instinctively, but people with an ASD often have to work at learning these rules. Some have more trouble integrating than others, depending on how severe the diagnosis is. The most severely affected individuals seem aloof and uninterested in people. Others desire contact, but fail to understand the reciprocal nature of normal social interaction.  It can often be confusing and cause anxiety as many social rules are unwritten and not spoken about. This is where MDMA might come in handy –  administered infrequently in clinical settings – to ease anxiety and promote productive social bonding.

The drugs prescribed so far for anxiety retrieval don’t seem to work that well for ASD adults. “Conventional anti-anxiety medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), MAOIs, and benzodiazepines, lack substantial clinical effectiveness in autistic adults,” write the authors. 

There’s reason to believe MDMA might work. Alicia Danforth, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology with a focus on psychedelic research, published a research study on adults with autism who have self-administered ecstasy. Of course, since the people in question purchased the drugs illegally and took them in an uncontrolled setting one has to keep in mind that the results didn’t pass the rigors of an FDA-approved clinical trial. However, Danforth reports  positive and promising results out of her survey study. Over half of the people she interviewed spontaneously made reports in improvement in social anxiety.

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?

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.