Most people perceive ecstasy as a party drug and they associate it with young people dancing to electronic music and vibrating lights. Few people are aware that before ecstasy hit the electronic dance and music culture scene, psychiatrists have looked upon its active substance, MDMA, as a promising medicine. Even though the drug has been discovered in 1913, it was Alexander Shulgin who reinvented it by synthesizing and testing the substance on himself in 1976. Due to the effects it had on communication and empathic skills, the tests received much attention from awed psychotherapists. Previously introverted patients became open and vocal about their problems and this was a great achievement in the process of psychotherapy.
This video was filmed at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles, where a mother shared her story of how MDMA helped her daughter through her most difficult and final days.
Before the medical effects of MDMA could be mapped out through clinical testing, the 80’s disco-fever set in: the drug found its way to the illegal drug market in the form of a pill, which was frequently mixed with other stimulants and as a result, MDMA’s lovechild, ecstasy - along with its bad reputation - was born. The media was infested with the extreme dangers of ecstasy - which have yet to be proved by scientific research – and this led to the emergency scheduling of MDMA into Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act in 1985 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). By law, this meant that MDMA has no accepted medical use. Since then, psychologists and psychiatrists have objected the strict regulation halting further studies in vain, and many countries around the world have implemented the American legislation without examining its impacts.
In the past few years we witness a renaissance of psychedelic research. Despite the open and deliberate interference by federal agencies and thanks to the American organization Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a number of clinical studies were launched. Results show that MDMA is an extremely effective supplement to psychotherapy if individuals (set) and an aptly developed and monitored environment (setting) is selected and the right dosage is subscribed. It is especially effective for disorders in which the patient is incapable of processing a negative event or experience of the past. Israeli, American and Swiss scientists have found MDMA to be promising in helping the therapy of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is not difficult to come to the conclusion that if MDMA is effective in processing traumas of the past, it could play a significant role in processing traumas of the future, such as the stress and depression of a patient in the final stage of an incurable disease. In 2008, Dr. John Halpern, researcher at Harvard Medical School, launched the first study among cancer patients on the effects of psychotherapy supplemented with MDMA. In February, he published the results of the most carefully designed research on the neurotoxic effects of MDMA. Results show that contrary to media reports, the use of MDMA does not harm cognitive skills. Simply put, it can be used for medical purposes with relative safety. This is not true for the street drug Ecstasy, which either only carries traces of MDMA or none at all. MDMA can only do harm in the wrong hands, in the wrong environment and for the wrong reasons.
MDMA has yet to travel the long and costly road of clinical trials to become a officially approved medicine in our countries. Not only is there a need for a new medicine, but there is also need for a brand new approach to its use. Palliative care itself needs to be percieved by society as important as birth care. However, one thing is for sure: it is time for us to re-examine our approach towards MDMA and other psychedelic drugs, which not only look toward a brighter future in the field of medicine, but with smart regulation, they can also help us find our place and role in a world where more and more of us feel lost and without a cause. In a world, where only a few pass away with dignity.