The Drug Enforcement Administration has approved the use of MDMA in a clinical trial to treat anxiety associated with terminal illness. A clinical trial run by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) will give 18 participants various doses of MDMA to test their reactions, Engadget reports.
Despite its EDM festival reputation, MDMA is thought to be a useful anxiety treatment because of its ability to induce euphoria and empathy in users. Brad Burge, director of communications at MAPS, says the trial is most interested in studying how MDMA "enhances or facilitates the psychotherapeutic process for anxiety" that comes with the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease.
This isn't your EDM festival MDMA
"When that arousal comes about in an unsafe situation, such as outside of therapy, or in a recreational context it may be experienced as anxiety," he told Engadget. "But in the context of psychotherapy, that arousal may be experienced as a form of fear but also excitement and tension. So that anxiety can be used productively to assist the therapeutic process."
This MDMA isn't the same stuff you'll find on festival grounds, anyway. It's been manufactured legally in a lab and exists in a much purer form than most drugs on the street. Still, the DEA's approval of the study shows a slight shift in perspective towards a drug that was criminalized in 1985. MAPS has had several MDMA studies approved before, including those focused on therapeutic treatment for PTSD and social anxiety related to autism.
Trial participants must meet specific requirements: a diagnosed terminal illness, anxiety associated with that illness, and a life expectancy of at least nine months. The DEA's approval was the final step in readying the study. MAPS says it plans to begin the screening process soon.
This is the seventh MDMA clinical trial MAPS has had approved
Although this is MAPS' seventh study that has been approved for MDMA use, large-scale acceptance of the drug as a medical treatment is still a ways off. For MDMA to be available as a medical treatment outside of the trial, the FDA will need to give its approval. That process is not expected to start until 2017 and will likely take several years.
Update, March 23rd, 11:52 AM: This article has been updated to include Brad Burge's comments on the study's goal.