MDMA -- which you might know as ecstasy, or, in its crystalline powder form, molly -- was synthesized by Merck in 1912. Until the 1980s, when the DEA classified it as a Schedule 1 narcotic, it was a tool for couples therapy, treatment of PTSD, phobias, and more. "Therapists, faith leaders, and doctors who had seen how tremendously healing and safe it was in therapy protested [the DEA's decision]," Ginsberg says, but MDMA has remained a Schedule 1 narcotic.
Some psychiatrists feel MDMA is a double-edged sword: it creates a surge of serotonin that makes users feel better in the short term, but the ensuing serotonin depletion can exacerbate depression, according to psychiatrist Dr. Dion Metzger.
"The issue with controlled substances such as MDMA and other psychedelics is that their harmful effects outweigh the benefits," Dr. Metzger says. "Once the bad is greater than the good, it's not therapeutic."
And there are certainly no examples of other legal prescription medications leading to accidental death or addiction or anything. Oh, wait... there are.
Recently, however, the DEA has approved studies sponsored by MAPS that will test MDMA's efficacy as a psychotherapeutic tool. "Our main priority now is developing MDMA and cannabis into prescription medicines through the FDA process," Ginsberg says.
If all goes according to MAPS' plan, molly might be legal by 2021.
LSD and shrooms might be options, too
Like MDMA, LSD currently has no approved medical uses in the United States, but its therapeutic potential has researchers intrigued. In addition to MAPS' work researching the drug, scientists in the United Kingdom earlier this year published the first images of a brain on LSD.
Though it was a small study, anyone can see that the tripping brains were totally lit up, which the researchers described as evidence of a "more unified brain." Basically, LSD seems to allow various parts of the brain to communicate in new ways, which may explain the religious or spiritual description many people give to their trips, as well as the new insights and sense of well-being some people experience following their comedown.
And the drug hits just keep on coming! Also this year, a study in Nature found that psilocybin -- known in dorm rooms as shrooms -- lifts depression in people who have suffered from the disease for, on average, nearly 18 years. Again, it's a small study, but offers a significant amount of hope for people who have found no relief from current drug options.
Clearly there is a long way to go from now to a commercial telling you to ask your doctor if taking acid or molly is right for you, but there's enough promise to get at least a little excited.
If LSD and molly aren't your jam, consider ketamine
So, right now you can't legally roll or trip with your psychiatrist. But they can put you in a K-hole! People who are "treatment-resistant" -- meaning they've tried multiple antidepressants without any results -- are candidates for ketamine therapy: psychiatrist-led IV drips of the dissociative drug. And unlike SSRIs, ketamine therapy actually works for many with depression who don't respond well to other treatments.
"The data is so far very promising as far as ketamine being a fast antidepressant that also can reduce suicidal thoughts," Dr. Metzger says. "That is huge… This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in psychiatry within the past 50-plus years."