MDMA Research in the United States

MAPS Bulletin Summer 1989 Vol. 1, No. 2

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In response to the estimated 400,000 doses of MDMA that are consumed in the United States every month (my estimate based on DEA seizures, and gossip), NIDA has decided to thoroughly evaluate the possible harm that may be caused by human use of MDMA. Eight university based researchers are conducting NIDA-funded research on the neurological effects of MDMA and serotonin, while NIMH also has funded some basic neurotoxicity research.

One of NIDA’s multi-year grants has gone to Dr. George Ricaurte of Johns Hopkins University for basic animal research. Dr. Ricaurte’s primate study is investigating the mechanism by which damaged serotonin nerve terminals regenerate, and determining how long such regeneration takes, whether it will restore to baseline levels, and whether or not this degeneration has any practical significance or observable behavioral effects. Dr. Ricaurte’s pilot study investigating the regeneration of serotonergic nerve terminals was partially supported by grants from MAPS.

NIDA is funding two studies of human users of MDMA. Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum is conducting a two year descriptive study of MDMA users, and assessing abuse potential. Nearing completion, preliminary reports note that “There appears to be minimal abuse in the population we have studied thus far. The most frequent use tends to occur during the first months following an initial experience. An abusive stage, if it occurs at all, tends to be brief.”

NIDA’s other human study is being conducted by Dr. Ricaurte, and involves 24 people whom have taken MDMA over 20 times volunteering to undergo three and a half days of hospital tests having their brain waves computer monitored during two nights of sleep, being given a complete series of neurological tests, a spinal tap, blood tests, a tryptophan challenge test, a pain sensitivity test, and various non-invasive puzzles and memory tests. MDMA users will be compared with a group of non-drug users and a group of MDMA naive drug users. Dr. Ricaurte’s pilot studies of MDMA users at Stanford and Yale, which demonstrated the feasibility of the project, were partially supported by grants from MAPS. In addition, many of the volunteers for the study were referred by MAPS.