• MDMA has been banned by the federal government since 1985 as a dangerous recreational drug with no medical value. But interest is growing in its potential to help people with psychiatric or emotional problems.
  • An underground community of psychologists, counselors and healers administer the drug to patients, an act that could cost them their careers.
  • “I am doing what is morally right,” said the therapist, who lives in northern California and did not want to be named. “If I have the tools to help, it’s my responsibility to help.”
  • A series of clinical trials approved by federal drug authorities are currently underway to see if the drug’s ability to suppress defensiveness and increase confidence can increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy.
  • One of the main studies focuses on the effect of MDMA on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Farris Tuma, head of traumatic stress research at the National Institute of Mental Health, said he was skeptical because as of yet there is no plausible theory on how the biochemical effects of drug on the brain could improve therapy.
  • “There is a long way from where they are now and it becomes standard clinical practice,” he said.
  • An increase in ecstasy-related deaths at raves has bolstered the resort’s destructive reputation.
  • But some of those who have given MDMA to patients are optimistic.
  • The therapist said she became a believer in the late 1980s after it helped her cope with her own trauma. Since then, he has conducted around 1,500 sessions with patients, taking them to explore their feelings for four hours.
  • She only uses the purest MDMA, unlike street ecstasy, which is usually tainted, and none of her patients have had an adverse event, she said.
  • The therapist said she knows about 60 professionals in her area who use MDMA in their practices, and the number is growing.
  • “We are responsible therapists who do a respectable job,” he said.
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  • MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine, was first synthesized a century ago by chemists at Merck & Co. Inc., who patented it as a precursor for a drug. blood clotting.
  • Toxicity experiments conducted covertly for the U.S. military and later declassified fueled speculation that the military took an interest in MDMA in the 1950s as a chemical weapon or truth serum.
  • Then, in 1976, Alexander Shulgin, a former Dow Chemical Co. researcher who devoted his life to research and self-experimentation with psychedelic drugs, synthesized MDMA and tested it.
  • “I never felt so good, or I never believed it was possible,” he later wrote of the experience. “The cleanliness, clarity, and the wonderful sense of solid inner strength continued throughout the rest of the day, night, and the next.”
  • The following year, he gave the drug to Oakland psychologist Leo Zeff, who was so impressed that he came out of retirement and began introducing it to therapists across the country.
  • By some estimates, as many as 4,000 therapists used MDMA in their practices before federal authorities banned the drug.
  • “We lost an important tool that was really developing,” said Dr. Phil Wolfson, a San Francisco psychiatrist who used the drug in his practice when it was legal.
  • The chemical mechanism of MDMA remains unexplained beyond the general effect of increasing levels of serotonin and oxytocin (brain chemicals related to well-being and social bonding) and triggering the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in the processing of memory and emotions.

Therapists say MDMA can put patients at an emotional sore point that allows them to engage difficult feelings and memories.

Bob Walker, a 69-year-old Vietnamese veteran from Chico, tried ecstasy on his own after hearing it was used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

A few weeks after his first ecstatic trip, he picked him up and his girlfriend took him on a therapy appointment. Her therapist had no experience with the drug but had agreed to the session.

Walker said the experience freed him from haunting images of seeing a friend killed in a helicopter crash and watching a young Vietnamese man die in a truck crash. “I have not lost any memory of what happened