Molly is the latest in designer drug trends. See how the government is addressing this drug here.

MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 and was patented in Germany for the purpose of an appetite suppressant two years later.1 The recreational use of the drug gained popularity in the 1970s, in addition to its usage as a therapeutic aid during psychotherapy sessions.1 During the 1980s, reports indicating MDMA-induced neurotoxicity in laboratory animals were released, resulting in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deem MDMA as a Schedule I compound, consequently making its possession illegal.1,2 The popularity of using MDMA recreationally coupled with its favorable profit margins in illegal sales has created for mass production and trafficking of the drug.1 In 2012, the National Seizure System (NSS) reported that law enforcement officers had confiscated 173,749 dosage units of MDMA.3 Although the amount of confiscated MDMA and use has declined,3 the growing trend of adverse events associated with MDMA use has elicited concern from the medical community and government agencies.1

In controlled settings, MDMA has been thought to have the potential to serve therapeutic use.1 In 2000, The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) conducted the first pilot study using MDMA to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Spain.4 In 2001, the FDA gave preliminary approval for a MAPS-sponsored study of MDMA under the direction of Dr. Michael Mithoefer.1,4 Dr. Mithoefer and his wife, Ann, tested an innovative therapy for PTSD using MDMA and found promising results. They discovered that when MDMA was administered in a supportive and controlled setting, in combination with psychotherapy, there was positive long-term risk/benefit ratio for PTSD; in their study, 15 out of 21 people who had received the therapy and recovered from their severe PTSD in the early 2000s reported negligible or almost no symptoms at all in 2012.5,6 This was the first long-term study to test psychiatrists’ exploratory interest in hallucinogens and other recreational drugs as a therapeutic tool; the chairman of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. John H. Kyrstal, stated to The New York Times that, “‘there is a tremendous need to study novel medications.” 6

In 2014, MAPS announced its plan to launch an exploratory study to investigate the effects of MDMA-assisted therapy on autistic adults with social anxiety.7 One of the leading psychiatrists in the clinical trial, Charles Grob, states to Tech Times that, “We know we need new supportive treatments, and we have anecdotal evidence that autistic adults who had experimented with MDMA experienced a reduction in anxiety and an increased confidence in their abilities to interact socially.” 8 In March 2015, soon after this announcement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration approved the first clinical trial of the use of MDMA alongside psychotherapy to treat anxiety of those with life-threatening illnesses.9 Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS stated in an article to Huffpost Science that, “We’re on track for MDMA to be approved by the FDA by 2021.” 10 Currently, there have only been 38 U.S. government trials that have been completed or are underway investigating MDMA in human participants.10 In efforts to support the goal FDA approval, MAPS has enacted an impressive $21 million plan to fund clinical trials and train psychotherapists.10 The current FDA support and continual efforts to investigate the beneficial effects that MDMA can have on different medical conditions is shifting the drug’s reputation from solely a dangerous and illicit party drug to a possible treatment intervention.

  1. Rivas-Vazquez, R.A. (2002). Clinical and toxic effects of MDMA (“ecstasy”). Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(4), 422-5.
  2. Rome, E.S. (2001). It’s a rave new world: Rave culture and illicit drug use in the young. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 68(6), 541-50
  3. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). National drug threat assessment summary. Retrieved from http://www.dea.gov/resource-center/DIR-017-13%20NDTA%20Summary%20final.pdf.
  4. Doblin, Rick. (2002). A clinical plan for MDMA (ecstasy) in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Partnering with the FDA. MAPS, xii (3), 5-18.
  5. Mithoefer, M.C., Wagner, M.T., Mithoefer, A.T., Jerome, L., Martin, S.F., Yazar-Klosinski, B.,… Doblin, R. (2012). Durability of improvement in posttraumatic stress disorders symptoms and absence of harmful effects or drug dependency after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy: a prospective long-term follow-up study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 1-12. doi: 10.1177/0269881112456611
  6. Carey, B. (2012). A ‘party drug’ may help the brain cope with trauma. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/health/ecstasy-treatment-for-post-traumatic-stress-shows-promise.html?pagewanted=all.
  7. MDMA-Assisted Therapy for Social Anxiety in Autistic Adults. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.mdma-autism.org/index.html.
  8. Reich, J.E. MDMA used in clinical trial to help people with autism. Retrieved from http://www.techtimes.com/articles/112005/20151130/mdma-being-used-in-clinical-trial-to-help-people-with-autism.htm.
  9. Lewis, R. (2015). DEA approves study using MDMA for anxiety in seriously ill patients. Aljazeera America. Retrieved from http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/17/clinical-trial-approved-for-mdma-psychotherapy.html.
  10. Gregoire, C. (2015). MDMA psychotherapy could be legal in just five years. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mdma-psychotherapy-may-be-legal-in-just-five-years_56266075e4b08589ef4902ca.
  11. U.S. National Institutes of Health. Search results. ClinicalTrials.gov. Retrieved from https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=mdma&Search=Search.