After clinical successes, MDMA on track to become legal love drug for couples

After clinical successes, MDMA on track to become legal love drug for couples

VicesJanuary 29, 2017 By Reilly Capps

Law and order types hate ecstasy. Not the emotion, but the drug — also called ‘X’ or ‘molly’ or simply ‘E.’ Cops and judges and school principals and moms all think rolling on it leads to reckless orgies with strangers. That’s what’s so bad about it.

But nobody is so anti-drug that they like to watch heroes suffer. Are they? Recently, many people were thrilled to learn that therapy using MDMA — the pure form of what’s in molly — was found to mediate symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in soldiers. The pioneering study showed that after MDMA therapy, 80 percent of people tested no longer qualified as having PTSD anymore.

The legitimate trials continue, and because of them, MDMA therapy has a good chance of becoming an FDA approved medicine as early as 2022 for those who suffer from PTSD.

It's a medical miracle story. Its implications unite nearly everyone. Two of the head researchers on the PTSD study, which happened in Boulder, Colo., say the possibilities now are endless. But what's next for the drug?

"Couples," one replies. "Absolutely couples."

Three couples who have used it, four scientific researchers, and two underground therapists all agree, MDMA has an amazing ability to make relationships better. To prove it, government-sanctioned, clinical trials using MDMA to treat couples began this past summer. It’s a unique study in the history of American culture: treating shitty relationships as medical problems, and prescribing a pill as the cure.

It’s offering huge hope.

LOVE AND SANDWICHES

Luna and Marcellus are a cute, young, married Colorado couple. When he first saw her, he thought: "Look at her, she's perfect. Sparkly. Magnetic." This was five years ago, at a Jimmy John’s back east. He was behind the counter when she ordered a fresh veggie sub. Marcellus, while piling her sandwich with olives and mushrooms off the cold table, whispered to his co-worker: "I'm gonna marry that girl." 

He did, and then they both moved to Colorado. "We were so in love," Luna admits. "In heaven."
Then, she said, it changed: "The fucking demons came out."
After about a year of being married, they were more focused on the things they hated about each other than what drew them to each other in the first place. She nagged him about watching too much Premier League. He wondered if she was "crazy, like, bipolar crazy." They talked a lot about separating. Divorce.

At a pivotal breaking point one night, they each sat on the couch and swallowed a pill. She didn't look at him for two long hours. "I said, ‘You're killing me,’" Marcellus says about how the experience began. "You're fucking killing me." Then, they felt warm, tingly. The room softened.

Their surroundings became what’s called the “MDMA Bubble,” a term coined by doctoral researcher Katie Anderson after one user she interviewed described himself as "floating in a warm tub of goo" on the drug.

Suddenly, on the couch, in the bubble, in the goo, Luna turned to him. And as if by magic, she didn't see the couch slob who played too much Halo. MDMA, Marcellus says, "lets you see each other in your purest state, like how you imagined the other person was when you first met."

He saw her again as the angel ordering a sandwich. She saw him, again, as the boy who always knocked on her door to deliver it.

A CHEMICAL LOVE STORY

Throughout his life’s work, Sasha Shulgin, the Godfather of MDMA, wanted to find new drugs that went well with sex. With many of his compounds (he took 4,000 trips and developed 200 drugs) he succeeded. "We have a rolling sex life," his wife Ann once said in 2002. "And we're in our 70s."

But if Shulgin's goal with MDMA was to make sex better, he was surely disappointed. The drug often kills off desires to fuck, leaving users with a temporary form of penile dysfunction. For some, this is a benefit.

Colorado couple Lysa and John dealt with premature ejactulation for many years. Fed up, they tried using MDMA for its ejaculation-delaying properties. It worked. They had the "longest-lasting sex ever," John admits.

Pure MDMA makes relationships happen, not sex. In the early '80s, when MDMA made itself known in America, there was talk of an "instant marriage syndrome," a byproduct of ecstasy. Novelist Pico Iyer once wrote about it after a woman slipped it into his glass of juice. "Very suddenly, I was in love with her, a perfectly attractive person I'd have walked by on the street 100 times a day without noticing," he wrote. "How much does a drug, an infatuation, place feelings inside one, and how much does it only uncover what was there all along?"

HISTORY OF A MIRACLE

After stumbling on MDMA, Shulgin invited a psychiatrist into his funky little backyard California laboratory to cook up a batch. The doctor was George Greer, now semi-retired and living in Santa Fe. Greer says when he took a dose with his wife, "We felt closer."

He says it stayed that way long afterward, too.

Over the course of about 5 years, Greer and his wife — a therapist — gave MDMA to 80 people. They claim that nearly all of the experiences were positive. Using the results, they published the largest-ever study of MDMA trials. Using the drug, couples started "basing their relationships much more on love and trust than on fear and suspicion," the paper says. MDMA helped to "resolve existing conflicts" and "prevent future ones."

Later, in 1985, the government moved to make MDMA a Schedule I drug, officially classifying it as more dangerous than cocaine with no medical purposes. Greer wasn’t surprised. "All along, I knew it was going to be scheduled, because it felt good," he says.

Criminalizing MDMA, and drugs like it, "wasted what was probably the single most important opportunity in the history of psychology,” wrote psychiatrist Stan Grof.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND

"I recommend people against doing (MDMA) on their own," Greer says. "As a doctor, I'm ethically bound to say that."

Over the last 30 years, millions of people have ignored that kind of advice. And dozens — maybe even hundreds — of therapists still do too. Like Rob Colbert, a Fort Collins researcher doing his doctoral thesis on couples using MDMA. He calls the trials "Evenings with Molly," and he's finding plenty of rebels in the shadows.

One of them is Mike, a Colorado man who says he's given MDMA to about 75 people, including "two or three" couples. He gives them the pill, sits in a room with them, and then carefully works through their issues. "The MDMA reduces inhibition, and they share things that they may have been afraid to say because of fears of rejection," he says.

Mike issues warnings to home scientists however: If you get your MDMA from a shady source, test it — since bunk stuff might kill you. And MDMA can "spiral a couple out," he adds. One couple he knows of did MDMA every full moon, which is way too much. They loved each other high, he says, but couldn't be happy sober. They’ve since split up.

But Mike knows, personally, the benefits of MDMA. When he was thinking about marrying his wife, Sari, he was worried about a few small problems they were having. He'd already been married and divorced once. He was scared of another mistake. Then, Mike and Sari dosed MDMA and listened to calming music and traded massages. It was tranquil and safe, as most MDMA sessions are.

"There's this image of drug use as reckless and chaotic," says researcher Katie Anderson. But her subjects tend to plan their trips meticulously, doing things like cleaning the apartment or eating fruits and vitamins beforehand.

Just as it did for Marcellus and Luna, MDMA brought Mike and Sari back to the way they felt at the beginning of their relationship. Sari looked "sparkly, softer, gentler," Mike said. "It cleared some blocks and anxieties" and "started the marriage." Today, as he tells this story over the phone, a baby cries in the background. It’s Mike and Sari's, born as a product of the gooey bubble of MDMA.

A NEW ROADMAP FOR COUPLES

Mike would love a job giving MDMA to couples — legally, instead of illegally. And if things continue the way they are, he may soon get the chance. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the organization that studies MDMA for PTSD, has started giving MDMA to couples with federal approval.

A stipulation in the trials is that one partner has to have PTSD, and the MDMA dose must happen during therapy. Ten couples participate. Yet, even after MDMA therapy for PTSD becomes approved, MDMA ‘couples therapy’ might not follow for years after. "More science will need to be done," said Bruce Poulter of Boulder, who gives MDMA to PTSD sufferers as part of the larger study. But: "It shows promise."

Most of the rebellious pioneers doing MDMA research illegally asked us to give them fake names. Not until it’s regulated professionally will couples like John and Lysa, Marcellus and Luna, and Mike and Sari be able to come out of the MDMA bubble in peace, with 50 years of promising research finally fulfilled.

Who knows, one day you and your significant other might also be able to enter the MDMA bubble, and see each other the way you did the very first time. The way Luna and Marcellus saw each other again as they did that night at the local Jimmy John’s.

Today, their love is deeper than ever. For them, MDMA was "cheaper than getting couples therapy… " Marcellus begins to say, and, like strong couples do, Luna finishes his sentence, adding, "... and it's just as good."