The cover story of yesterday's Washington Post Magazine takes a sympathetic look at MDMA's potential as a psychotherapeutic catalyst, focusing on research by Charleston, South Carolina, psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer. Mithoefer and his wife, a psychiatric nurse, are conducting an FDA-approved study of MDMA's effectiveness as a treatment for postraumatic stress disorder, and so far the results look promising. Similar studies have received government approval in Switzerland and Israel, and a Harvard study will evaluate MDMA's usefulness in relieving the anxiety of terminal cancer patients.
The MDMA research marks an amazing turnaround for a substance that was hastily banned by the DEA in the mid-1980s and that more recently has been tarred as a brain-damaging party drug. As the Post explains, MDMA's partial rehabilitation is largely due to the efforts of Rick Doblin and his Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS has raised the money for the Mithoefer trial and other studies aimed at testing the medical or psychotherapeutic value of currently banned substances, and it has led the way through the bureaucratic maze that must be traversed to obtain legal approval for such research. Its ultimate goal is to make Schedule I substances such as MDMA, LSD, ibogaine, and marijuana available by prescription.
Although MAPS is dedicated to working within the system, the Post notes that Doblin's vision of pharmacological freedom, which the researchers with whom he collaborates do not necessarily share, goes beyond moving a few drugs from one schedule to another:
Doblin is frank about his passionate desire to defuse the drug war, which he believes is counterproductive and an assault on personal liberties. He doesn't think the government should be able to tell Americans what to put in their bodies, and he has even volunteered in interviews that he sometimes finds it useful to consider important personal and strategic issues with psychedelic assistance. He acknowledges that his outspokenness caused a schism in the original coalition that fought against relegating MDMA to Schedule I—many of his colleagues wanted to stress their support for the criminalization of any nonprescription use. He has seen it jeopardize one of his most prized accomplishments—MAPS funding of the Harvard MDMA-cancer study almost killed it. Doblin had to withdraw MAPS as a sponsor and persuade a donor to give the money directly to Harvard instead. He must realize he is handing his critics a potent argument, i.e.: Don't be fooled by the careful science and limited goals of the current studies; the real goal is unrestricted use of psychedelic drugs.
So, why does he do it? "Sometimes, it's just a relief to say, 'This is what I believe,'" Doblin says.