Renewed Interest in Ecstasy Research

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On the surface, it sounds like a psychiatrists dream drug – a substance that brightens mood and gives a feeling of good will, even love, toward others. That is, after all, why it’s popular as an illegal drug. Users like the way they feel when taking it. The effects have even spawned a new class of compounds, called entactogens. According to one academic description:
MDMA has been hypothesized to represent a new class of psychoactive agents, called entactogens, producing feelings of closeness to others and empathy, well-being and insightfulness, with little perceived loss of control or hallucinatory effect.

And there is some evidence that ecstasy has been used effectively for medical treatment. One very poignant tale is from a mother who gave the drug to her daughter when her child was dying of incurable cancer. In a video presentation shown at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, the tale is one of failed treatments and how ecstasy finally gave some relief in the last days.

Mara’s mother found an “underground psychotherapist” who was willing to provide the drug.

Meanwhile, the established medical research continues. Unfortunately, so far, no solid evidence that ecstasy provides more than a short term benefit have been found. (See summary here.) The studies continue however, with focus on post traumatic stress syndrome and other topics related to psychopathologies where MDMA (the scientific name for ecstasy) are being pursued. (A partial list can be found here.)

Critics argue that even if a useful treatment is found, the drug is already being abused – turning it into a prescription item will just increase the amount available for illegal use. They wonder why existing drugs, that aren’t as dangerous or as likely to be taken for entertainment, shouldn’t get priority.

What will decide the issue is whether MDMA can be shown to have a novel effect and what dose might be safe. If, for example, it is the only drug that helps some condition, that is a powerful incentive to make it available. For now, the jury is still out and those who wish to use the drug face serious criminal penalties.

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