Harvard Docs Study: Dying with Ecstasy

The Boston Herald
January 7, 2005

Harvard doc’s study: Dying with ecstasy

By Jules Crittenden

[MAPS notes in brackets by Ilsa Jerome]

Wacked-out kids call it ecstasy and use it to get high, but a Harvard doc says the illegal hallucinogen MDMA could ease the dying days of cancer patients.

[Many researchers refer to MDMA and similar compounds as belonging to unique pharmacological class, the entactogens, and not to psychedelics. MDMA rarely produces perceptual alterations, and those few cases reported in clinical trials are simple.]

Dr. John Halpern, who studies the damage illegal drugs can do at the psychiatric McLean Hospital in Belmont, will launch a $250,000 study of how MDMA – the main ingredient in street ecstasy – can be used in anti-anxiety therapy for the terminally ill.

“I’m a physician. It is about trying to help people,” said Halpern, whose work already has been compared to that of notorious Harvard professor Timothy Leary – who fed LSD to students in his own freelance research in the 1960s.

Halpern’s work is backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit firm pursuing legitimate medical uses for such illegal drugs as marijuana, MDMA and psilocybin.

“They have incredible potential,” said MAPS President Richard Doblin.

Halpern said he believes MDMA can relieve severe anxiety in patients for whom standard treatments have failed, letting them work through their fears. In therapy with 12 patients, he hopes to lay the groundwork for further study.

[The people taking part in this study will not be patients of Dr. Halpern. They will be research subjects who will receive written informed consent before they take part in the study.]

Doblin said he hopes to bring an ecstasy-related anti-anxiety drug to market in five years.

[MAPS is seeking to make MDMA a prescription medication, as detailed in the clinical plan authored by Rick Doblin.]

Read more about the MDMA/cancer anxiety study by reading the study protocol sent to IRBs, and about MAPS’ support of research into therapeutic uses of MDMA.

The Boston Herald published a short piece describing the MDMA /cancer anxiety study, quoting primary investigator John Halpern and MAPS President Rick Doblin.