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FDA Allows Human Tests of Love Drug
San Diego Union-Tribune 
December 26, 1993
by Lynn Franey

LOS ANGELES -- Club goers dub it the love drug.
College students call it the hug drug. Federal
regulators label it downright dangerous.
  It's widely known as Ecstasy, a cousin to
hallucinogens and amphetamines that is said to 
enhance emotional well-being. Banned by the Food
and Drug Administration in 1985, it has since been
linked to a dozen deaths and was blamed for more 
than 200 emergency room visits last year. Tests on 
animals have shown it may damage nerve cells.
  But a researcher at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
says there could be an upside to Ecstasy, whose
chemical name is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine
(MDMA for short).
  Charles Grob, a psychiatrist, has secured first-
ever FDA approval for human trials of the drug.
  The experiments are designed to lead to tests of
Ecstasy as a possible painkiller for the terminally
ill and for use in psychotherapy.
  "Hundreds of thousands of young people have taken 
it," Grob said. "But we know very little about it.
There's lots of talk about potential dangers, but 
we want to explore it extensively."
  Few in the scientific community are enthusiastic
about MDMA's potential benefits. Many likened advo-
cates of its therapeutic attributes to 1960s
boosters of LSD.
  "When LSD was first discovered, that same view of 
therapeutic use was popular but it turned out to be
completely wrong," said Dr. Stephen Stahl, an LSD
expert in the UCSD School of Medicine's Psychiatry
  Nevertheless, even researchers who have found 
harmful results in MDMA animal trials say they 
approve of Grob's initial study. They say much needs
to be learned about what MDMA does to the human      
brain and heart, and that it isn't impossible the
drug may have some treatment value.
  "We need to get rid of the drug-war mentality and 
see that all drugs aren't all evil," said Dr. David
Nichols, a Purdue University researcher who tested
MDMA on rats in the early 1980s.
  MDMA was discovered quietly in Europe about 80 
years ago, surfaced in Berkeley in the 1970s and hit
the nightclub scene in the past decade. It remains 
popular at "rave" parties in big cities, including
Los Angeles and San Diego, and among college students.
  Grob said the FDA approved his testing proposal after 
years of turning down similar ones. In the study's first 
phase, he will give Ecstasy to six health professionals
who have previously used MDMA on their own. He'll moni-
tor their sleep patterns, conduct brain scans and per-
form a variety of other medical tests.
  He said he hopes to dispel some of the rumors about 
MDMA heard on dance floors and campuses. These include
whispered reports that it drains spinal fluid and acts
temporarily as an aphrodisiac, only to cause longer-term
  The second part of Grob's trials, which has yet to win
FDA approval, will seek to determine whether Ecstasy
eases pain in terminal cancer patients and helps them, 
as a therapeutic agent, cope with the knowledge that 
they are going to die.
  Grob says those applications are "way, way down the
line. That's putting the cart before the horse."
  But Rick Doblin, an unabashed proponent of psychedelic 
drugs, said he hopes Grob's study will open the door to
MDMA's use in treating people who suffer mental illnesses,
are recovering from traumatic events, or just struggling
with a marriage.
  "I think MDMA has a significant place in the future of
psychiatry and then in a liberalized world where adults
have free choice for these kinds of experiences," Doblin
said from his North Carolina office of the Multidiscipli-
nary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a group he
  MDMA was already popular among psychotherapists when the 
government outlawed it. Advocates say it allows people to
lower psychological barriers between themselves and others
and become less hostile.
  College-aged people have more-prosaic uses for the drug.
They often take it alone to dance all night or, in a highly
dangerous practice, mix it with LSD, marijuana and alcohol.
  Ecstasy users say that since 1985, the drug's quality has
gone down and its price up -- to $20 or more per capsule.
  The Drug Enforcement Administration has blamed MDMA for
12 deaths in the United States, most stemming from heart
failure and accidents. In one case, an Ecstasy user tried to
climb a live electrical wire.
  Deaths also have been reported at rave parties in England.
Grob said those fatalities probably resulted in part from a
lack of oxygen and water in the clubs. Some raves charge as
much for water as for alcohol, and turn off the taps in the
bathrooms. Dancers experiencing Ecstasy's hours-long euphoria
can become dehydrated and fall into seizures, he added.
  Last year, 236 people were rushed to American emergency
rooms because of bad reactions to Ecstasy.

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 All-in-all, a fairly decent article from one of the most right-wing
 rags to 'grace' our street corners.
 My main problem is with this so-called LSD 'expert' - but at least 
 they didn't dwell on him as this paper normally would. If this doctor
 is at the UCSD here in San Diego (I suspect he is), i may be able to 
 get further clarification from him.
 Anyone ever heard of this 'Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic
 Studies' before? If anyone has their address, I for one would love to 
 get in touch with them.
back beneath the waves
                        D o l p h i n R e x