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How Ecstasy Can Take You on the Healing Path ... Even for a Former Nun

Ralph Metzner re-examines uses and potentials of MDMA "Through the Gateway of the Heart."

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The research with the classic psychedelic drugs (psilocybin, LSD etc) carried out during the 1960s had led to the hypothesis, widely accepted by workers in the field, that psychedelics are non-specific psychic amplifiers, and that the content of a psychedelic experience is primarily a function of the “set” (expectations, intention, attitude, personality) and the “setting” (physical and social context, presence and attitude of others, including the guide). This set-and-setting hypothesis is a useful model in coming to understand the experiences with MDMA also.  The specific insights, feelings and resolutions of problems that occur are of course unique to the individual, although there is a commonality in the kinds of feeling states that are named, such as “empathy”, “ecstasy”. Individuals are often able, if their intention in taking the substance is serious and therapeutic, to use the state to resolve long-standing intrapsychic conflicts or interpersonal problems in relationships. One therapist has estimated that in five hours of one MDMA session clients could activate and process psychic material that would normally require five months of weekly therapy sessions.

Because of the importance of the set and setting variables, a brief description of the nature of the set and the setting was requested of each of the individuals whose accounts were included. These are shown at the bottom of the first page of each account; and one can obtain a pretty clear sense of the operation of this principle by comparing that statement with the content of the experience. In addition, the text lists as “catalyst” the precise identity and the amount of the particular substance used. In many of the sessions, an initial dose was followed after an hour or so by a “booster” of a lesser amount of MDMA, or with a related compound called 2-CB. Invented by Alexander Shulgin, the famous independent chemist who identified and synthesized hundreds of previously unknown psychoactive compounds (described in his books TIHKAL and PIHKAL), 2-CB is in many ways analogous in its effects to MDMA, though much less research has been done on it, nor is it as widely available in the underground scene.

With all these empathogenic (or ‘entactogenic’) substances, the catalyst triggers a change of feeling state, in which insights and perceptions take place. These insights and perceptions, though they may appear ordinary and commonplace when they are afterwards heard or read by others, are felt with a depth and poignancy of emotion that was for most people unheard of in their lives before the time of that first experience.

None of this is meant to say or imply that similar or identical changes of consciousness could not be produced or arrived at without the use of these empathogenic substances. Obviously, many people have in the past, and continue to have, empathic and heart-opening experiences without the use of any external aid, pharmaceutical or other.  For the people whose experiences are recounted in this volume, the heightened and deepened state of awareness facilitated by the drug served as a kind of preview, as it were, a taste of the possibilities that exist for much greater emotional openness and relatedness than they had imagined.

They are clearly aware, too, that the drug-experience is a temporary state, and one that can be converted into the ongoing reality of everyday consciousness only with continuing therapeutic and spiritual practice—and not with the continued use of the drug. Most people do not want to repeat the experience very often—it is felt to be too intense, too sacred. Although the possibility of becoming psychologically dependent on this, or any drug, cannot ever be ruled out, there is a fairly high degree of consensus that MDMA is not addicting, in the way that opiates are. None of this positive potential therapeutic work with MDMA discounts or denies the existence of patterns of extreme overuse of Ecstasy that have become associated with the international rave culture, nor do we intend to minimize the potential harm from such overuse.