How MDMA Can Take You on the Healing Path … Even for a Former Nun

May 23, 2013

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The following is an excerpt from the book, ” Through the Gateway of the Heart; Accounts of Experiences with MDMA and Other Emphathonic Substances,” by Ralph Metzner. The first part of the text includes the Foreward to the 2012 edition, and following it, a first-hand experience by a former nun. (Four Trees Publications, 1986. 2012 Edition).

Ecstasy, empathy, openness, compassion, peace, acceptance, being, forgiveness, healing, re-birth, unity, emotional bonding, caring, celebration–these are some of the terms people use to describe their experiences with a class of substances, of which MDMA 3,4-methylenedioxy- amphetamine (also known as Adam, Molly, Ecstasy or XTC) has become the best known. Although related in a general way to the psychedelic “mind-manifesting” substances such as LSD, psilocybin and mescaline, these substances are different in that they do not usually produce visions, hallucinations, or altered perceptions of reality.

Even more importantly, these substances seem to consistently induce a positive affect and reduce or attenuate anxiety–in significant contrast to the classical psychedelics which can amplify and elaborate both positive and negative affects. Because of the high percentage of major positive insight experiences reported with these substances, and the relatively low incidence of undesirable side-effects, these drugs have attracted favorable attention from a number of psychotherapists, who regard them as facilitators of therapeutic insight and change. They have also been used by some teachers and practitioners of meditation, who see them as important amplifiers of emotional and sensory awareness, and as aids to spiritual practice.

The Use of  MDMA in Overcoming Fear and Trauma

The book  “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide,” edited by Julie Holland, MD (Park Street Press, 2001) offers a comprehensive look at the risks and benefits of MDMA, as well as a summary of the pharmacological effects identified thus far. Jessica Malberg and Katherine Bonson in their chapter on “How MDMA works in the brain,” summarize the effects the main brain neurotransmitters as follows:

“MDMA acts in the brain through three main neurochemical mechanisms: blockade of serotonin re-uptake, induction of serotonin release, and induction of dopamine release. With these actions, MDMA is essentially a combination of the effects of fluoxetine, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor and anti-depressant; a serotonin releaser and amphetamine, a dopamine releaser (op. cit. p. 29).”

 More recent studies by Gillinder Bedi and others have used functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques to show that MDMA attenuated amygdala response to (pictures of) angry facial expressions, but did not affect amygdala response to fearful expressions. Responses to happy emotional expressions were enhanced with MDMA. Further studies done with recognition of emotions in facial expressions in photographs suggested to these authors that MDMA reduced the perception of fear in the images, leading to more “pro-social behavior.” Summaries and detailed descriptions of these and other studies may be found by consulting the MAPS website (, which maintains a comprehensive database of all published research on MDMA and other psychoactive drugs of potential value and interest.

These findings of reduced fear-perception are consistent with anecdotal reports (including many of those in this book) that MDMA significantly attenuates interpersonal fear and anxiety. This is probably the basis for its marked therapeutic utility, especially in the treatment of PTSD, where the perceptual fixations on a real life-threatening situation blocks the normal processing of memories.

The potential applications of MDMA in the treatment of debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is now being researched by Michael Mithoefer and associates at the University of North Carolina, is exemplified in two of the accounts in this book, whose authors were able to confront the traumatic experience of rape. One is called “I Can Now Move through the Trauma.”

This article originally appeared on: AlterNet