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E for Ecstasy
by Nicholas Saunders

[ Chapter 9 ] [ Index ] [ Chapter 11 ]

This document in other languages: Hungarian -

Chapter 10: Other uses of Ecstasy For more recent information on this topic, see Art on Ecstasy and Religious Users of Ecstasy on my site online in both North America and Europe For large numbers of young people, Ecstasy is the drug that makes raves happen and it has been said that, for many of them, raving is one of the main reasons for living.(97) Yet there are other regular users, particularly in the United States, who have only vaguely heard of raves and certainly have never experienced dancing on Ecstasy. Here are some of the ways MDMA is used:

Psychotherapy According to RD Laing, the radical psychotherapist,

What scientists have always been looking for is not a tranquilliser, an upper or a downer but a stabiliser, and in the seventies Alexander Shulgin thought he had found such a drug [in the form of MDMA]. In the context of its use, among very responsible therapists in America, all direct reports, including my own, were positive.(25)

Psychotherapists valued the way MDMA helped clients to become open and honest in a way that allowed them to have insights which they could remember afterwards.(6) A broad survey among 17 therapists with experience in the use of MDMA just before prohibition showed that they regarded it as of immense value in many, but not all, situations.(158)

The therapeutic effects of MDMA are described in a paper called Subjective reports of the Effects of MDMA in a Clinical Setting by Drs. George Greer and Requa Tolbert.(28)

Of the 29 subjects, "18 reported positive changes in mood after their session; 23 reported improved attitudes, such as towards self and life in general; 28 reported improvement in interpersonal relationships, and three of the five couples reported benefits lasting from a few days to up to two years; nine reported improvements in their working life; 14 reported diminished use of abusable substances (alcohol, marijuana, caffeine, tobacco, cocaine and LSD); 15 reported beneficial changes in their life goals; and all nine subjects with diagnosable psychiatric disorders reported considerable relief from their problems. . ."

In general, the authors conclude that "the single best use of MDMA is to facilitate more direct communication between people involved in a significant emotional relationship". MDMA was also recommended as an adjunct to insight-orientated psychotherapy, for enhancing self-understanding and was found to be useful in spiritual and personal growth.

According to an article in the American Journal of Psychotherapy(98), the effects of MDMA - heightened capacity for introspection along with temporary freedom from anxiety and depression - 'should be of interest to Freudian, Rogerian and existential humanist therapists'. It is said to strengthen the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client by inviting self-disclosure and enhancing trust. Clients in MDMA-assisted therapy report that they lose defensive anxiety and feel more emotionally open, making it possible for them to get in touch with feelings and thoughts which are not ordinarily available to them.

Psychiatrists also suggest MDMA is helpful for marital counselling by making it easier to receive criticisms and compliments. "There's less defensiveness between us and more leeway for diversity", observed an ex-client. Long-lasting increased self-esteem was also reported by clients. Greer says that another use is in working through loss or trauma, because the issue can be faced and accepted instead of being shut away through fear.(99) However, some therapists are doubtful about how permanent changes may be.(161)

No special techniques are necessary, but some are particularly appropriate such as 'focusing', which helps contact and release hidden feelings.(144)

Current use in psychotherapy Since prohibition in the States and the ending of the Swiss license at the end of 1993, there is no legally authorised use of MDMA in psychotherapy except in research projects (see Appendix 2).

In California there is still a considerable amount of psychotherapy involving the illegal use of MDMA. This is partly a continuation by licensed therapists who used it before prohibition and have carried on, even though some have lost their licenses as a result.(134) They believe that it is such an important tool that they are prepared to take the risk. Then there are a growing number of lay therapists, with no license to lose, who offer treatment, though of course this is also illegal.(129) In Europe, where lay therapists are allowed, I have heard of only a few using MDMA in Germany and Britain.

Future use in psychotherapy One of the most interesting trials is due to begin in Nicaragua in 1994 on the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD or War Trauma) - the psychological damage resulting from torture and violent traumas. At a preliminary trial, 20 'incurable' cases were given MDMA without being told what it was. When it came on, most of them spontaneously formed a huddle and talked about the horrors of war and how they never wanted to fight again. A week later, each was interviewed by a psychiatrist and most were declared cured.(130, 142)

As a result, a protocol is being worked out to begin a properly controlled trial. If the results of this are as good, it should provide scientifically acceptable proof of the psychological benefits of MDMA for the first time, and pave the way for it to become a prescription drug.

Amateur psychotherapy A commonly held view is that healing can only be done by the willpower of the wounded person, and the therapist merely helps the client to see what is going on inside him or herself. If someone can use MDMA to gain the same insights and to retrieve and face memories of past traumas, then this is a more direct approach.

Representing 'the informed lay user' Robert Leverant wrote:
The therapist is only the personification of the healing aspect within each person. If an individual can tap this force directly from time to time, why not? If by ingesting MDMA, a person can put on a therapist's thinking cap for a few hours and see him/herself with new vision that is presumably empathic to him/herself, why not?(29)
Interestingly, Freud was in favour of lay therapy and wanted to protect analysis from both physicians and from priests (Bettelheim 1983). In fact, he envisioned a profession of secular ministers of the soul, perhaps akin to PhDs.

Some people believe that gain most benefit by taking Ecstasy alone with earplugs and a blind on or even in an isolation tank.(124) However, most believe that it really helps to have a guide for support, but not necessarily a trained psychotherapist. Dr. Roth, one of the Swiss psychiatrists licensed to use MDMA clinically, believes DIY therapy with MDMA is naive, since help is needed to make use of realisations gained, while many professional psychotherapists say that to use untrained helpers is dangerous and irresponsible. An experienced self explorer believes that people can go a long way by themselves, but wise guidance can be valuable in some situations. Two experienced American psychotherapists also thought that a wise helper was essential, but not necessarily a trained psychotherapist.(129, 134, 135)

If you should decide to use E in this 'self-help' way, there are two approaches, i.e. with or without the guide taking MDMA as well. The advantage of both people taking it is the very close communication made possible; the disadvantage is that it's hard for the guide to remain disciplined and devote him or herself to the task rather than go into themselves. One solution is for the guide to take a small dose, about half, as was done by Alexander Shulgin.(2) The dose used for therapy is important and should be about 2 mg/kg (100 mg per 110 pounds) - too little may not overcome defenses, while too much may cause a defensive reaction.(134)

There are some worthwhile ground rules for such sessions:

1. The guide is there purely for the benefit of the subject and should take the part of servant and protector during the session. It is the guide's job to prepare the venue and deal with anything that might interrupt the session.

2. The guide agrees to act in the subject's interest, while the subject agrees to follow the guide's instructions. Both agree to avoid sexual contact during or following the session.

3. The guide and subject should discuss beforehand what the object of the session is, and agree how far the subject may deviate before the guide intervenes. Sessions frequently take an unexpected course, and the subject should say beforehand how deeply he or she is prepared to delve into new areas during the session.

4. The guide's job to listen but not to interpret, and to recapitulate when asked. It is also the guide's job to intervene when the subject deviates beyond the limits agreed beforehand. For the subject to relate what is going on to the guide throughout the session tends to keep the experience superficial, but this may sometimes be appropriate.

One example of many described in Through the Gateway of the Heart(31), an American collection of positive experiences on Ecstasy, is a 32 year-old man who was at a transition point in his life and career. His aim was "to examine this transition and proceed as quickly as possible to the task at hand".
I gained an important insight into the history and development of my personality and character. My awareness, confidence, and self assurance improved. The session provided me with one of the best opportunities I have ever had for true self-examination. I felt refreshed, vigorous, alert, and happy to an unusual degree. . .

I discovered and understood with a positive and profound conviction that my identity and personality were intact. I had feared, I suppose, that I might find that I had been damaged in some irreversible way. I felt tremendous relief and joy when I learned otherwise.
He added that for him, the most beneficial effects of MDMA were greater presence of mind and being able to talk with clarity.

Another example given in the book is that of a woman who had been raped eight years before she took E. She had the help of two friends/guides. Although LSD was the main drug involved, she was helped by a 65 mg dose of MDMA given 2 hours after the LSD:
My friends asked me to keep silent for ten minutes and to think of and feel what was happening to me. It took a long time before I could do this, always fearing that I would simply go mad. When I finally accepted it and did it, I could feel the pain take over my body so that the suffering was physical as well . . .

I spoke of the rape. For eight years I have kept the most horrible aspects of that day hidden in the back of my mind, and it was only then that I realized that the little details I had wanted to ignore were eating at me like cancer. The memories became very vivid in my mind and the suffering became more intense . . . I started to feel the horror of that day and started vomiting . . . getting rid of pain, of an evil that had been destroying me.
Nine years later one of the helpers told me that "she is doing great these days".

Self therapy Some people claim that Ecstasy will help you to open up your heart and rid yourself of neuroses without the need for a therapist, and that in fact it is more direct because there is no transference, no-one else to look to except yourself. An enthusiastic Californian therapist is said to have believed in this so strongly that he gave up his practice and became a dealer instructing his clients in self therapy!(135) However, most professional people feel that a guide is essential to give support, unless the person is unusually good at self direction and without neurotic problems, as neurotic people can be opened up to deeper problems by the drug.(134, 135)

A well-known Hollywood director, who was used to constant attention and praise, made a film that flopped and was ridiculed by the media; meanwhile his wife lost her own high-status position. They were shattered. Taking Ecstasy at home together, they saw their situation in perspective: they had respect for themselves and each other which did not rely on media flattery.(139)

A man wrote to me how about how he feels E helped him:
I could see myself so clearly as this pathetic person who always put on an act of being the nice guy to cover up that I was really scared stiff of people. But on E I wasn't scared. I didn't try to be the nice guy and found that the people I was with liked me more as I was. This made quite an impression on me, and gradually I experimented with dropping the 'nice' me in everyday life. A few months later I had some E again and this time got fascinated what was going on inside myself. I found that it went back to being rejected by my mother who had me adopted: that made me distrust people and look for approval. I can't say it was an instant cure, but I do feel as though I came to terms with the past and now relate to people more honestly.

Improving relationships Very often couples become estranged over the years, relating to each other in less and less open and intimate ways. This may have advantages, such as providing a working relationship that avoids arguments, but it usually goes together with an empty emotional life. Taking Ecstasy together has been called a 'marriage saver'. The experience can break through barriers built up over many years and, with these removed, restores intimacy to a relationship.(4, 5, 25, 26, 28, 99, 133, 134, 165, 188) On the other hand, taking Ecstasy before a relationship is well established may be a mistake, leading to bonding without foundations.(132)

A typical example is a couple who used to be very close, but, after 3 years of marriage, argued about petty things such as who was doing their share of the work. They spent their time looking out for evidence against one another while ignoring what the other was contributing:
We were at each other's throats when Andrew said, 'Look, this is ridiculous, let's take that E we hid away and try to enjoy life like we used to'. I agreed, with some sarcastic comment about not being able to face the situation without drugs, and after taking it we carried on pulling each other to pieces. I remember saying to myself, 'No drug will make him see sense, I'm going to divorce him.' But as I was preparing my next onslaught I felt my aggression slide away and the intensity of my argument became deflated until I felt a bit silly. Andrew was not yet hit by the drug but, as he told me later, without my anger it felt like fighting a sponge: he couldn't carry on without opposition. I had felt confused: on one hand I was desperately trying to gear myself up to continue the battle, but the ammunition kept melting. I gave in and laughed, and so did Andrew. Soon I was crying, not out of sorrow for how I'd behaved but because we'd wasted so much of our marriage blaming each other instead of enjoying life. We both went through a lot of pain, but we ended up knowing we belonged together, and even now when we row we can see how petty it really is. I don't think we will ever get so bogged down again.
Two years later they were still together

Taking Ecstasy does not always have an obviously happy ending. Another estranged couple who took MDMA opened their hearts to one another, but while the man expressed love for his wife, she confessed that she did not love him and had never enjoyed making love with him. It was too much for the man to accept and the marriage broke up. However, some therapists believe that the best use of MDMA among couples is resolving a peaceful end to a relationship.(161)

Parent-child A woman, whose husband had left her, had become estranged from her 13-year-old daughter. It was a typical teenage rebellion with the girl staying out all night and the mother feeling she had lost control; conversation was limited to hurtful sniping. One day the mother was amazed and delighted to find that her daughter wanted to curl up in bed with her and talk about intimate secrets. Unknown to the daughter, the mother had taken MDMA the day before - although the main effect had worn off, the residual 'afterglow' must have made her approachable. Hostilities returned, but so did these times of closeness.

Another woman took Ecstasy with her 20-year-old daughter at a party. They were on good terms anyway, but the conversations they had under the influenc e of MDMA reinforced the deep affection they felt for each other.

Brother-sister "Siblings always have a lot of shit together".(161) As adults, there are always a number of unresolved issues relating to childhood, such as one bullying the other or resenting more attention from parents. Taking Ecstasy together as adults allows long-suppressed resentments to be looked at and resolved, and the underlying love for one another to be expressed.(139)

Family reunion As a Father's day treat, a middle aged man chose to spend a day with his family on Ecstasy. The parents and two grown up sons all enjoyed the occasion, and look back on it as one that bonded them together again as a family of adults after the separation caused by teenage rebellion and leaving home.(139)

Problem solving This is best done on a normal dose within an hour of the effect coming on, as this is when the effect is strongest. It is useful to write down your problem before you start. For instance, you could decide to look at your relationship with your mother and why you avoid her. Or why you don't enjoy your job. Or to find out whether you really love someone (who is not present). It's a good idea to have a tape recorder handy and record how you see things. Failing this, have pen and paper ready, but you may find that thoughts come so quickly that it is hard to write fast enough, and that you are reluctant to make the effort.

This exercise can provide insights; described by some as an unobstructed view, perhaps the way you might see your situation if you were looking back a year or two later. However, studies have shown that judgement can be impaired by Ecstasy(86), so any new insights should be evaluated when you are not under the influence of MDMA, before they are acted upon.

I myself have tried MDMA for problem solving, and the first time got completely distracted into having fun - the exercise takes discipline.(161) The second time I saw everything in a simple and clear perspective; although there were no dramatic insights I felt that it cast a new light on some issues.

There is a danger of getting bogged down in one's own emotional mess. A good way to avoid this is to be with someone else who asks you what's going on and who will keep your attention on the issues at hand. A guide who is not taking the drug provides one way of doing this, but two experienced users can help one another. It's said to work best during the first hour when the effect of the drug is strongest. A lot can be covered in an hour, so it's a good idea to plan to have fun for the rest of the trip, in order to end up on a light note.

Picturing the future Several techniques taken from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy can be used when on MDMA.

While on MDMA it is possible to address a problem you expect to face in the future using proven techniques. For example, you may have a colleague at work who you don't get on with, but whose point of view you can appreciate on MDMA and with whom you could have a much better working relationship if you could be as open and appreciative at work. The technique is to visualize your work situation on E and how you would relate to him, then try to apply the insight to the real life situation.(5)

Another technique is to visualize a situation in the future after you have achieved a goal, such as getting the job you want or marrying the person you desire. Imagine yourself settled in the new job or marriage and look back at how you got there. From this perspective, maybe you can see what was needed more clearly than looking forward, or perhaps you can see other possible ways of achieving your aim.

The third technique is to check whether your goal will really satisfy your needs. Imagine having achieved your goal in the example above and see how it feels. After the initial excitement of the novelty and achievement has waned, are you satisfied? Does it restrict you? What do you look forward to - another goal, or developing this new position? Was it the right goal?

Mini vacation For people with an intense and speedy lifestyle, Ecstasy can provide as much relaxation in two days as a week on a tropical island. A London acquaintance made the comparison:
I like to work hard without a break, and then have a holiday. But if I go away for a week I spend the first half of it winding down and the last day getting geared up again, leaving only two days of actual relaxation. But about a year ago I started to take MDMA with a friend who is also a workaholic, and now it's become a 3-monthly event. We go to his cottage in Kent for a weekend, sometimes with one or two others. On Saturday morning we take the MDMA along with our first cup of tea, and just allow ourselves to slump into a sumptuous state of relaxation, sometimes dancing a bit but mainly just lying around blissed out. We sort of agree that we are not going to talk much or do anything to distract the others during the first few hours, but in the afternoon we usually go for a walk and talk quite a lot about what happened for us, and how we saw each other. By evening we are hungry and go to bed early, and next day get up late and sit around and talk again. It's all very low key, but actually some of my best ideas have occurred to me on those weekends.
There is an American report on similar use in the US, based on interviews with 100 professional people who have hectic lifestyles.(104) They tend to be people who used LSD in the sixties but have led drug-free lives since. The report describes a very organised approach with much advance preparation and precise doses being matched to the person's weight. Some will rent a house for the weekend and follow a well-worn routine, devoting the actual trip to relaxation and personal insights, while the next day is reserved for communication and reaffirmation of friendships.

A less structured way of using Ecstasy for relaxation is described by a 42 year-old English man who had not heard of the above paper.
I am one of those people who gets totally involved in my work (computer animation) - it becomes my life until the project is finished, so I work long hours without any let up. This suits me, but a time comes when I wake up rigid with tension and really need to take a day off. Before I discovered Ecstasy I tried country walks, weekend trips to Paris and spending the day in bed with my girlfriend, but I never really unwound, I remained tense and my mind was still on the project. But with Ecstasy I relax completely. It's wonderful to spend a day totally with my girlfriend, laughing and playing and indulging in gentle sex. I think that without these special treats she would not have put up with so little attention from me. I always feel great the next day, and, even though my mind has not been occupied with work, often come up with a new angle on what I'm doing - just like you might after a real holiday.

Keeping fit For some women, taking Ecstasy and dancing has replaced aerobics because it has the same effect but is more fun. Dancing for hours without eating or drinking alcohol is an ideal way to lose weight and keep fit. According to Sheila Henderson, who is running a research project on women Ecstasy users in Manchester,
The motivations for raving and keeping fit are similar. They are about pleasure-seeking, socialising, music and body image. The difference is that one's naughty and the other's nice. One makes you feel virtuous, the other you enjoy because it's a bit deviant. The combination of dancing all night and burning up calories is attractive to figure-conscious girls. Lots of women mess themselves up by going on crash diets. Many are now taking Ecstasy to slim.(35)
However, she adds that the switch from the gym to the rave is not so much a deliberate act - more that raving fulfils the same role as the gym, and provides an alternative lifestyle with the same benefits.

Artistic expression Ecstasy can also be used as an aid to drawing, writing, playing music(123, 139), singing(31) or other artistic activities. Very often the effect of the drug is to open up the artist to a broader perspective, sometimes uncomfortably.(132, 133) There have been creative writing workshops where the participants take a small amount of MDMA, about half a normal dose, and set to work. Some find it good for ideas, others find the E overcomes 'writer's block'.(5) Another method for overcoming writer's block is to focus on the writing while taking a normal dose, but to leave the actual writing until afterwards.

There are some people who put on a private multimedia show with all participants and audience on MDMA.(187)

A user who tried singing on MDMA told me:
It's like singing in the bath, but more so - my voice sounded quite professional, although, mind you, I was the only one who commented on it. Maybe it was awful really, I must try it again with a tape recorder.
And an artist who tried painting said:
I can't say I painted better on Ecstasy, but differently and more freely. It was as though I was free to carry on with the interesting bits without having to do the hard work. I think my style has become looser since then.

Yoga and Marshall Arts I have had several reports from people who have used Ecstasy while practising yoga and tai-chi besides one who has only taken Ecstasy while doing kung fu and yoga.
I was very aware of soothing warmth permeating my body. I began to put more energy into my form and experienced an increasingly heightened perception, reaching a peak after about 45 minutes.

One of the major aspects that the E shed light on was the use of energy (prana/chi) rather than a focus on muscular strength. My overall impression of the benefits of E usage in Hatha Yoga was that the session overall had its own distinct harmony and produced a highly balanced mode of perception in which contradictions of body and mind were 'synthesised' into a very pleasant equilibrium. The insights gained from the session have been incorporated into my daily practice, so that now the sensations produced by the E can be reproduced by the yoga - rather like a free trip.
The effect of Ecstasy on Kung Fu was to make clear that the user, who was male, was good at the hard or yang movements but had neglected those that were soft or yin:
I found that the softer 'feminine' touch counterposed the external, physically athletic 'male' side of kung fu, the balance of the two working in harmony improved the speed, power and insight into a given technique to quite a considerable degree. . . though I am not sure I would wish to be challenged to a fight under the influence.

Rituals Some people use MDMA as part of a ritual, either with each individual exploring inwardly and only sharing their experience later, or by interacting as a group, perhaps speaking in turn using a 'talking stick'.(166) The group ritual effect is to produce a powerful force and may include rebirthing and tai chi. Rituals are best done on low doses, otherwise it may be difficult to follow instructions.

A community has been taking MDMA together or in family groups for some 12 years twice weekly, and report continuing progress.(188) Others use it alone on particular days.(136) An example is given here from a German book on MDMA.(103)

Some members of The Native American Church use MDMA in place of Peyote for healing ceremonies. The results are described as remarkable, and white people are easily integrated.

The ceremonies take place at night. Participants are asked to fast for eight hours beforehand, and start by sitting in a circle with sage and myrrh burning as incense. Each person expresses their wishes for the session and takes 100 to 250 mg of MDMA with a small amount of distilled water.

When the drug comes on, they perform three dances with a drummer beating out a heartbeat rhythm. For the first dance, the dancers are asked to focus on the animal spirit within. They go round stamping out the rhythm which they feel connects them with the animal world and the earth.

The second is a circle dance, where each follows another round, focusing attention on the circle of people and the cycle of life. This has the effect of connecting individuals to the group.

The third dance is done with two rows facing each other. The dancers stay on the same spot, and allow all their thoughts and feelings to flow.

After the dances, the participants sit in a circle and pass round water. Each person takes a turn with the talking stick in one hand and a shaker in the other. As holder of the stick, that person is allowed to talk, sing or dance while the previous person accompanies them on a drum. The others focus their attention on the speaker but without looking at them. When everyone has had their turn (lasting three or four minutes), water is again passed around the circle and more incense is burned. Finally, they meditate while they watch the sun rise.

A white American participant who attended such an event described it as a socio-therapeutic session. There were 23 participants in her group, and she felt very much part of it all and that there was mutual trust. She felt waves of energy from the others and says she felt in tune with the self, the circle and the world.

Imaginary Journeys This technique can be used purely for fun or to learn more about yourself. Ask a partner to take you on a journey where you face various difficulties and pleasures. The E state will help you to feel the situations and respond to them emotionally. Your partner notes your responses and discusses them afterwards.

I was told about someone who had decided to go travelling to the third world for the first time. A friend who was a veteran traveller took him on a fantasy journey based on some of his real-life experiences, from the exhilaration of visiting an Amazonian tribe to the misery of being ill with malaria. Even though the guide was not on MDMA, he said that he relived his experiences just because he had such a good audience.

Treating addiction and alcoholism Although there is no study to date, there are anecdotal reports that Ecstasy can help coke(165) and heroin addicts to break their habit, of which a personal account is included.(appendix 2)

Treatment of alcoholics is another possibility, and a trial is planned in Russia depending on government approval.(101, 142) A trial on alcoholic rats showed that they consumed less alcohol and more water when given MDMA.(102)

Relieving pain There is growing interest in MDMA's potential as a pain killer. This has been stimulated by two commonly observed effects of the drug: that when people injure themselves while they are under its influence they can easily accept the pain(30), that it appears to enhance the effect of morphine(127) and that it dissolves fear, which can include the fear of death.(70) Dr. Henry of the National Poisons Unit believes that MDMA stimulates opiods, a neurotransmitter, that numbs people so that they do not feel pain, as occurs when people injure themselves at sport.(30)

A trial of MDMA for the relief of pain in terminal cancer patients began in 1993 - the first trial involving humans to be approved in the USA.(24, 127) Russian researchers are also interested in doing research on using MDMA for pain relief, and, with funding from the west, hope to investigate MDMA for the treatment of alcoholism, neurosis and also terminal cancer patients.(101)

Psychological research According to Enoch Callaway, humanity's most pressing problem is to understand the human mind, yet results of research to date has been disappointing. MDMA, with its unique quality of stimulating feelings of love, could be a useful instrument in psychological research.(100)

Training psychotherapists Among mainstream therapists, there is a trend away from the Freudian idea of the analyst acting as a blank wall, towards the realization that empathy is important to therapeutic success. It is also becoming more recognised that therapists not only learn an intellectual interpretation of their own analysis but also understand their feelings. Several people have suggested that MDMA would be an ideal tool for this purpose.(126, 135)