The Oprah Magazine comes out in favor of MDMA as a therapeutic wonder drug, attempting to dispel hysterical, ‘rave’-related media cliches (propagated by Oprah herself, among others) along the way. Writer Jessica Winter tried MDMA for the first time for the sake of the article, and describes the enormous personal benefit she gained in the weeks after:
To a layperson, the notion of using a drug like Ecstasy as a therapeutic tool for healing trauma might make as much sense as adding cocaine to a diabetic’s weight loss regimen. Ecstasy was the signature stimulant fueling a worldwide party culture in the 1980s and ’90s, epitomized by massive all-night dance “raves” crammed with blissed-out revelers and pulsating with electronic music at festivals and exurban warehouses across North America and Europe.
Yet MDMA’s beginnings were innocent, even banal. In 1912 it was included as an intermediate chemical in a patent that the German pharmaceutical company Merck filed for an antibleeding medication. Then it all but vanished from sight until 1976, when the psychedelic researcher and former Dow chemist Alexander Shulgin—acting on a tip from a female student he has never named—synthesized MDMA in his lab and, as was his M.O., tested it on himself. “I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria,” Shulgin wrote after his first MDMA trip.
Supporters of legalized MDMA therapy believe it can be applied in couples counseling and in treatment for depression, body-image disorders, chronic pain management, and end-of-life anxiety. But many advocates think its best chance at mainstream acceptance is as a tool for people with PTSD. Later this year, Michael Mithoefer, MD, a psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina, will publish the long-term follow-up results of the small pilot study that Sarah first heard about six years ago. The outcome: Seventeen of 20 subjects no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD after just two or three sessions of MDMA-aided therapy led by Mithoefer and his wife, Ann, a psychiatric nurse.
After MDMA was placed on Schedule I in 1985, illicit use of Ecstasy skyrocketed and the drug’s reputation grew ever more demonic. On a 2000 MTV special, nuclear radiologist Dominick Conca, MD, presented a cautionary brain scan showing what looked like actual holes in the gray matter of a heavy Ecstasy user, Lynn Smith; the following year, Smith and her scan appeared on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. But although the high-contrast image seemed to be proof positive of MDMA’s powers to turn young minds into Swiss cheese, it in fact merely depicted variations in cerebral blood flow.