Though the government has banned the use of ecstasy for over three decades, a team of therapists in Marin County has received permission to conduct a clinical trial investigating the drug’s anxiety reducing capabilities.
The team of researchers want to determine whether the illegal psychoactive compound, chemically known as MDMA, is capable of reducing anxiety in gravely ill patients such as those suffering from end-stage cancer.
Dr. Philip Wolfson and his team have long wished to prove the effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Their goal is to determine whether ecstasy will be capable of reducing the sometimes crippling fear and anxiety that critically-ill patients feel after receiving a devastating diagnosis.
The drug began infiltrating clubs and discos in the late 80’s and since then, it has been known to be responsible for inducing a sense of wellbeing and emotional warmth in those consuming it.
Ecstasy is also believed to decrease anxiety.
Whether hallucinogens should be used in the treatment of patients has been the center point of much debate. Not so long ago, the Food and Drug Administration gave in and accepted that light drugs, cannabis for instance, may be used to alleviate the pain and depression of patients who had been diagnosed with terminal forms of cancer.
Morphine is another substance used ubiquitously in pain management and cancer patients suffering tremendous pain from bone metastases can finally find some comfort.
Physicians convinced of the benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy have had a hard time actually conducting trials, especially since the drug acts completely differently than other types of anxiolytics (medication used for anxiety treatment).
According to dr. Wolfson, a so-called “psychedelic trip” on ecstasy may be “transformationally potent” if used correctly. He explains that patients should be treated in comfortable, safe settings and that the treatment requires that two therapists (a man and a woman) be present.
Over the course of the next year, participants will either receive a full dose of MDMA or a placebo (the trial is a double-blind study, meaning that neither the patient nor the doctor know which patient is assigned which drug).
Because of the active ban on psychoactive drugs according to federal law, Wolfson’s trial is a bit unorthodox. The Drug Enforcement Administration offered no comments on the trial, however, it did certify the infrastructure of the psychotherapy clinic where the trials are going to be conducted.
“Our hypothesis is that something is happening with MDMA that makes psychotherapy easier,” Brad Burge, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies spokesman explained.
But ecstasy is also being investigated for other effects. Researchers are also attempting to determine whether it may help autism sufferers fare better in social situations. It’s believed that, in therapeutic doses, it may reduce awkwardness in social situations for autists who otherwise respond poorly to conventional treatment.
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