In 1965, psychedelic drug designer Alexander Shulgin synthesized MDMA himself, according to his autobiographical book, PiKAL. Throughout Shulgin's life, he tested the effects of over 200 potentially psychoactive substances, often by administering them to himself or a friend. MDMA was no exception: He tried it for the first time in 1976, and first noticed an effect at 81 mg, around the amount in an ecstasy pill, describing the effects as a ''low-calorie martini.''Unlike the other drugs he'd studied, MDMA ''opened up a person, both to other people and inner thoughts, but didn't necessarily color it with pretty colors and strange noises,'' he told the New York Times magazine in 2005.In 1977, Shulgin gave some to psychotherapist Leo Zeff to offer his patients, and it spread like wildfire through the psychiatric community. Therapists were amazed by its ability to provoke immediate realizations that typically took patients many months to arrive at. Psychologists also noticed that people under MDMA's influence were more loving and communicative. (Supporting this observation, a 2015 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that MDMA makes people more likely to talk about emotional and social subjects.) By the 80s, MDMA-assisted couples' therapy had become a fad. It was also a common treatment for anxiety, phobias, and trauma.
Read more: Moms Who Do Molly
I had the solutions the entire time—I just wasn't able to hear them.
The most common pharmaceutical PTSD medications currently on the market are Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft, which typically take years to help patients overcome the disorder, according to clinical pharmacist Nicholas C. Nowak, PharmD.
When recalling my memories under the influence of the MDMA, I felt as though I was safe to remember them.
Ben Rutt, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in PTSD, is reserving judgment until the study is finished, however. He points out that PTSD patients are at a higher risk for substance abuse than the general population, which could lead to abuse of MDMA. He's also concerned that if we're too hopeful, the psychiatric community could make the same mistake it made with benzodiazepines, anxiety medications used for PTSD that ended up worsening many patients' problems. "Our veterans deserve better than that," he says.And even if MDMA proves effective in therapy, that won't make ecstasy or molly a good way to self-medicate, warns Giordano. The subjects of these studies are sleeping over in the hospital so they can be closely monitored, their doses start off small and are carefully adjusted as needed, their environment is meticulously controlled, and they're not getting what you'd get at an EDM festival. Even when not mixed with other drugs, ecstasy and molly frequently contain filler or binding substances, with unknown doses and purity. And without supervision, MDMA can carry side effects like depression, overheating, dehydration, and overhydration."There are many risks in the recreational model, and so far, those risks have hampered medical research from moving forward," says Holland, "when it's obvious that what's needed is more research, not less."It may be a while before MDMA revisits its glory days as therapists' drug of choice. But the good news is that, if it does get the government's go-ahead, people can benefit from it without risking their health or safety.