MDMA researchers finally given green light to study its effects on anxiety, and it could be legal by 2021

MDMA researchers finally given green light to study its effects on anxiety, and it could be legal by 2021

VicesMarch 31, 2015

Despite the growing body of evidence that suggests certain psychedelics like MDMA, LSD and psilocybin could have legitimate potential in the treatment of various mental health disorders, most hallucinogens remain classified as Schedule 1 drugs, something that severely limits scientist's capacity to research their benefits. Even in light of a recent deluge of studies that found no association between psychedelic use and mental illness, it remains difficult for society to shake the belief that they turn your brain into a swarming clump of centipedes and sadness. 

But, perhaps the dogged efforts by psychopharmacologists to demonstrate that psychedelics are a legitimate form of mental health medicine are finally paying off.  Recently, it seems like governmental and societal attitudes towards medicinal psychedelics are shifting, and nowhere is this more relevant than in the world of MDMA research. Turns out, the typically-conservative U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has just given the go-ahead for the first clinical MDMA trial to be conducted in what's been a bit of a dry spell for hallucinogenic research. The trial in question will investigate the use of MDMA in treating anxiety in those with life-threatening illnesses.

... Which is of course what it was used for prior to its classification as a Schedule 1 drug in 1985. Before that, MDMA was actually used in combination with psychotherapy in the treatment of a wide assortment of psychological problems, such as neuroses and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Afterwards, MDMA research came to a virtual standstill as difficulties in gaining approval and funding for clinical research on Schedule 1 drugs meant studies could no longer be conducted. Sad face :(

Later on, in 2000, investigations began to pick up when the California-based nonprofit research group MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) began to conduct pilot studies on the safety and efficacy of MDMA in the treatment of PTSD, alongside psychotherapy. Their research concluded that not only was MDMA was well-tolerated and free of most side effects, but that it also resulted in significant clinical improvement in many psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, and smoking cessation.

Furthermore, those who received MDMA treatment remained symptom-free in follow-up studies. Today, these same psychedelic pioneers will conduct a small trial on the potential use of MDMA for the treatment of anxiety in those with life-threatening illnesses like cancer or ALS.

During the trial, a small population of 18 people will be given several months of psychotherapy alongside occasional administration of MDMA in some sessions. The trial will be conducted in a psychologist’s office rather than a hospital, the intention being to offer some sort of non-clinical setting in which people react more naturally to the drug. Hopefully, the MDMA will enhance the effects of psychotherapy and allow the patients to confront their situation more clearly, offering a sense of calm and trust.

“In a psychotherapeutic context, MDMA has been reported to help subjects lower their psychological defenses and enhance their ability to process difficult emotions,” Brad Burge, communications director for MAPS, told Huffington Post. “It may also increase the sense of trust between subjects and the therapist.”

Of course, if you'll notice, the trail isn't set up to observe the effect of MDMA alone on anxiety, which feels like a remnant of societal distrust of psychedelic use. But still ... it's something.

In addition to their research on MDMA, MAPS also hopes their efforts and findings will raise around $20 million to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription drug by 2021. That means that it's wholly possible that on your cancerous death bed, you could be raving to Diplo while you surf the euphoria of MDMA. Not bad, science. Not bad.