MDMA: Is This Psychotropic Drug Helpful, Harmful, or Both?
Last time I wrote about ecstasy, it was about the rise in ER visits and the inherent dangers of using a drug that inevitably depletes one’s levels of serotonin and has the potentiality of long-term brain damage. So, when I came across an article talking about using MDMA (ecstasy) to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), my curiosity was sparked. Psychedelic drugs have been used to treat mental illness before, and with some success: In the 50s and 60s, psychology was in a Freudian phase, viewing psychological issues as conflicts between the conscious and unconscious minds. At that time, psychedelics were used to allow patients to face their unconscious minds while awake, which purportedly eliminated the variables of memory retrieval. Still, these methods of treatment weren’t without controversy. With the influx of street use, and folks like Timothy Leary telling people to “”Turn on, tune in and drop out,” the use of psychedelia to treat mental illness was met with great discernment and fell to the wayside.
Currently, interest in using MDMA and other psychedelics to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and PTSD is gaining traction. MAPS is doing extended research on this subject, and states that MDMA isn’t the street drug we call ecstasy, noting that while ecstasy contains MDMA, it also may contain ketamine, caffeine, BZP, and other narcotics and stimulants. According the MAPS site they are “undertakinga 10-year, $10 million plan to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine.” They are also “currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. For-profit pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing MDMA into a medicine because the patent for MDMA has expired. Companies also cannot profit from MDMA because it is only administered a limited number of times, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are taken on a daily basis.”
The use of this drug has leaned so far from its psychotherapeutic roots, proving to be one of the most popular, highly sought-after street drugs around. Because of this, the useful aspect of this drug may easily be overlooked, forcing us to question how we can take something that has morphed into a social enigma and call it useful. I’m curious, will sufficient research place this drug at the discerning hands of medical professionals once again? And how do we, as a recovery community accept this when we have kids coming in suffering from the long-term, negative effects caused by this very drug?