MDMA: Its Past, Present and Inscrutable Future

Originally appearing at It all started with a chemist: A bright, young student-turned mad scientist Harvard probably wishes it had never admitted. Alexander Shulgin, a controversial American drug developer during the mid-1970s, is responsible for discovering and synthesizing not just MDMA, but more than 200 additional psychoactive drugs. While in the lab, he became curious. Shulgin began giving himself experimental doses and recording their subsequent effects. The chemist was so fascinated by the drug’s properties that he issued a report describing it as, “Altering the state of consciousness with emotional and sensual overtones.” After engaging his spiritual self, Shulgin introduced these substances to the public. The most popular amongst them was MDMA, most commonly referred to as ecstasy. And the rest is history. For most, the mention of ecstasy brings to mind a wild, underground dance rave teeming with neon lights, sweaty bodies and surging music. In Columbus particularly, many are noticing the reappearance of the “love drug” at dance events across the city, which have also gained popularity in the past few years. The uncontrollable urge to move and the strong appreciation for music it induces are what make the drug most popular at large party events, especially since it frees inhibitions. A more outgoing personality, surge of energy, the sense of euphoria and vibrant awareness of the senses are the drug’s significant effects. One user describes it as, “A smooth transition into the high – very subtle. But there’s no haze or blur, and it doesn’t hit you all at once.” Although the two have such close resemblances, they are not identical. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ecstasy is sometimes laced with much more dangerous drugs such as coke, caffeine or meth. Although molly is only the purest form of MDMA, the two are undistinguishable to the naked eye. For this reason, it’s considered relatively safer to take molly, but the psychological effects it causes should still be taken seriously. The drug abuse institute reports MDMA as posing such dangers as personal neglect and irresponsible decisions. These can be brought on by the disillusioned sense of security and intimacy the drug instills. The afterglow, experienced as the drug’s effects begin to wear off, is exactly the opposite of its appeal – fatigue, low motivation, interrupted sleep/eating patterns and mild depression. To avoid the hangover, users recommend taking multivitamins, especially vitamin C, 5 HTP (a serotonin booster) or magnesium before the night begins. Also, drinking enough water is crucial while under influence. It might seem ironic, but before being banned in the early ’70s, MDMA was used by psychotherapists as a way to connect with mentally unstable patients. In the book, “Through the Gateway of the Heart,” more than 50 individuals undergoing therapy for traumatizing events gave first-person accounts of their experiences with the drug. They reported the drug’s powerful attributes made them more talkative and open, which resulted in countless successful therapy sessions. Though this practice was banned in 1985, it did not stop some researchers from continuing their studies. In October 2008, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies released the following statement: “We found that low doses of MDMA (between 50 and 75 mg) were both psychologically and physiologically safe for all the subjects.” What’s more, the association is the only organization being funded for MDMA medicinal research for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and their results are surprisingly optimistic: About 80 percent of the group studied responded successfully to the drug. They even received permission from the FDA to continue studies that would prove MDMA as an alternative to other PTSD treatments. One Columbus native, Andrew, is a dealer, and a big advocate of using the drug at parties, but has discovered MDMA is useful in other situations as well. He’s found the drug helps him cope with his PTSD that developed after his four-year Army service in Iraq. “(The PTSD) is not too serious, but certain things will trigger it, and I get jumpy,” he said. “I’ve just noticed it helps. I never take it to treat it; it just makes me carefree and puts my mind into happier places.” MDMA has made a far leap from psychotherapy to pharmaceutical experimentation. It’s unclear what direction these clinical trials will take in the future, but its role in society is much certain. No matter how well MDMA performs in future clinical trials, where there’s a party, it’s sure to make an appearance. The “unofficial newspaper” of Ohio State University shares with its reader the history of MAPS’ research on MDMA, and the differences between recreational and therapeutic use.