MDMA has been approved for the treatment of PTSD and anxiety in the terminally ill

Studies show that popping Molly may actually have some benefits

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Molly made headlines quite a bit in the last two years, especially after Disney princess turned hammer-licking pop star, Miley Cyrus, stirred up a debate about whether or not she was alluding to the use of the drug in her hit song, ‘We Can’t Stop’. Since then, it’s been the guest of honour at many music festivals, especially those centered on “EDM” or any gathering that includes neon lights and people dressed up as animals. Recently the drug has been pushed back into the spotlight, but this time for a much different reason.

Molly, a slang term for MDMA, is a synthetic psychoactive drug with similarities to the stimulant Amphetamine and the hallucinogen Mescaline. It produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and distortions in sensory and time perception. In the 1970s the drug was used as an aid in psychotherapy, but without FDA approval. In 1985 the Drug Enforcement Administration labeled MDMA as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it had high abuse potential and no medicinal use. Recently however, the drug has been approved for clinical trials as an aid to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety associated with terminal illness.


Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) initiated the study as part of their efforts to validate the effectiveness of MDMA in a scientific setting. According to Mona Lalwani in an article for ‘Engadget’, pure MDMA, which is manufactured legally in a lab for research purposes, is much different than the concoctions found on the streets. “What makes MDMA one of the most sought-after drugs is that it brings on a bunch of ecstatic feelings––stimulated senses, empathy and a strong urge to hug the nearest neon-clad raver,” Lalwani writes. “In effect, MDMA lowers anxiety, which explains its use in the upcoming trial.”

The clinical trial will monitor 18 subjects. The participants must have a diagnosed life-threatening illness, associated anxiety and a life expectancy of at least nine months. The participants will be given several months of psychotherapy alongside an occasional dose of MDMA. The trial will explore a range of doses, as well as assign some of the participants a placebo dose.

In the 1970s the drug was used as an aid in psychotherapy until it was labeled a Schedule I substance. But just recently the drug has been again been approved for clinical trials as an aid to treat anxiety associated with terminal illness.


MDMA has long faced the stigma of being harmful, dangerous and mind destroying. It affects the brain by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Serotonin influences mood, appetite and sleep, and triggers hormones that play roles in feelings of love, lust and sexual arousal. Unfortunately, the drug has been known to cause serious after effects such as confusion, depression and ironically enough, anxiety.

In the article for ‘Engadget’, Brad Burge, director of communications at MAPS, explains that the after anxiety is temporary and closer to feelings of arousal. “When that arousal comes about in an unsafe situation, such as outside of therapy, or in a recreational context it may be experienced as anxiety,” says Burge. “But in the context of psychotherapy, that arousal may be experienced as a form of fear but also excitement and tension that comes with MDMA. So that anxiety can be used productively to assist the therapeutic process.”

According to MAPS, the study will cost around $587,000 and they have raised a little over half of that. Burge says that the research done will show us the safest way to use drugs and help people in the process. MAPS hopes to raise $20 million to make MDMA an FDA-approved prescription drug by 2021.

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