Sadly, I've never tried MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy or Molly. If I had, maybe I wouldn't have said sadly, since MDMA is a feel-good drug due to its ability to induce a massive release of serotonin, creating a feeling of well-being, love, joy.
The setting of our experience bore little resemblance to the conditions of Dionysian abandon under which MDMA is now often consumed. We were alone in a house, seated across from each other on opposite ends of a couch, and engaged in quiet conversation as the chemical worked its way into our heads.
Unlike other drugs with which we were by then familiar (marijuana and alcohol), MDMA produced no feeling of distortion in our senses. Our minds seemed completely clear.
In the midst of this ordinariness, however, I was suddenly struck by the knowledge that I loved my friend. This shouldn't have surprised me -- he was, after all, one of my best friends. However, at that age I was not in the habit of dwelling on how much I loved the men in my life.
Now I could feel that I loved him, and this feeling had ethical implications that suddenly seemed as profound as they now sound pedestrian on this page: I wanted him to be happy.
...The interesting thing about this final shift in perspective is that it was not driven by any change in the way I felt. I was not overwhelmed by a new feeling of love. The insight had more the character of a geometric proof: It was as if, having glimpsed the properties of one set of parallel lines, I suddenly understood what must be common to them all.
...The experience was not of love growing but of its being no longer obscured. Love was -- as advertised by mystics and crackpots through the ages -- a state of being. How had we not seen this before? And how could we overlook it ever again?
Sounds great. Sign me up for some MDMA!
Oh, there's a problem. According to an article in the February 2022 issue of Scientific American, "A Psychedelic for Trauma," this happened after MDMA began to be used as part of psychotherapy with people who had distressing memories.
In 1985 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classified MDMA as a Schedule I substance, making its possession a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The National Institutes of Health subsequently spent two decades funding research that suggested MDMA is neurotoxic and often lethal.
Which isn't true, as a bit of Googling easily reveals.
Most people who have a toxic reaction to MDMA got an adulterated version of the drug. This is what happens when a drug is made illegal. People still use it, but they don't get the pure drug, since it is unregulated. The Drug Policy Alliance says in relation to overdosing on MDMA:
“Overdose” refers to taking a higher than appropriate dose of a medicine or drug, which can happen with MDMA, but is extremely rare. It is much more likely that a problem would occur as a result of MDMA use with contraindicated medications (such as MAOI anti-depressants), preexisting health conditions, overexertion, or dehydration. Given the highly adulterated molly market, it’s also more likely to see an unidentified substance cause problems, rather than MDMA itself.
The Scientific American story by Jennifer Mitchell describes a key reason MDMA got such a bad reputation.
These early studies indicated that MDMA can promote long-lasting restructuring of serotonin-containing nerve fibers, but they also suggested that such changes occurred only in high doses and were reversible over time.
Then along came George Ricaurte, a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who made a name for himself by touting the alleged neurotoxic and lethal effects of MDMA. Ricaurte claimed that "even one drop of MDMA can lead to permanent brain damage."
His findings, proclaiming that MDMA could ravage the brain and leave nothing but damaged fibers in its wake, were published in the Journal Science and used time and again by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to support the war on drugs.
These data were later retracted after it was revealed that amphetamine, not MDMA, had caused the reported neurotoxicity.
But it has taken us years to get beyond sensationalist antidrug propaganda posters in which phrases such as "This is your brain on Ecstasy" were splashed atop artificially colored brain scans, making it look as if MDMA, as one DEA official put it, "turns your brain into Swiss cheese."
Mitchell is both hopeful and appropriately cautious about the current efforts to restore MDMA as a therapeutic drug for people suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental problems. She writes:
At 15 study sites across three counties, working with more than 70 different therapists and with study participants with childhood trauma, depression, and a treatment-resistant subtype of PTSD, we have obtained incredibly promising results.
...And although there had been concern that administering new medication to people with suicidal ideation could worsen their problems, MDMA-assisted therapy did not increase measures of suicidal thinking or behavior.
MDMA also did not demonstrate any measurable misuse potential (which should compel us to reconsider the reasoning behind the war on drugs and scare tactics of the 1990s).
I'm happy that I live in Oregon, a state that has legalized marijuana, approved psilocybin (magic mushrooms) for therapeutic use, and is the first state to decriminalize possession of all drugs and greatly increase access to supportive health services.
It's time -- past time, really -- for the United States to say yes to drugs. Adults should be able to purchase legal, well-regulated drugs that they want to use either for pleasure or therapy/healing/self-improvement.
It's crazy that alcohol and nicotine can be bought everywhere, even though these substances are much more destructive than most of the drugs still under tight control by the federal government.