MDMA, the man-made drug often called ecstasy or molly, has a colorful history. It was patented in 1914 by the German drug company Merck, and set aside for decades. The US Army studied it during the Cold War, perhaps seeking a chemical weapon or interrogation tool. Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, an iconoclastic chemist, rediscovered MDMA during the 1970s and gave some to a psychotherapist friend, who in turn shared it with hundreds of therapists around the world; some called the drug “Adam” because it returned patients to a more innocent state. Only after MDMA gained popularity as a party drug did the US Drug Enforcement Administration ban it in 1985, declaring that it had no medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Now MDMA is on the verge of making history again — as the first psychedelic drug to become available as a prescription medicine.
First, though, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science, a nonprofit seeking to develop psychedelic medicines, must raise about $7.5m by September as part of what it calls the MAPS Capstone Challenge. The funds are needed to unlock a challenge grant of $10m and to complete a final round of clinical trials, now underway in the US, Canada and Israel, that are designed to demonstrate that psychotherapy assisted by MDMA is safe and effective for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).