Amanda Feilding of the Beckley Foundation discusses the organisations new report ‘Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA’ which recommends rescheduling MDMA to a Schedule 2 drug.
MDMA should be reclassified as a Schedule 2 drug to enable greater scientific research into its clinical benefits.
That is the finding of a new report Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA published this month by the Beckley Foundation which I founded in 1998 to research the medical benefits of psychoactive substances and to call for global drug policy reform.
MDMA remains classified as a Schedule 1 substance – which designates substances with no medical use and a high potential for abuse – while more dangerous and highly addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine remain Schedule 2.
Cannabis was moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 last year after high profile cases involving children with epileptic seizures including Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. That This has allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis medicines for the first time.
Rescheduling MDMA for scientific research
Rescheduling MDMA in a similar way would reduce the political, bureaucratic, and financial barriers blocking research so that we can better understand the risks and potential benefits of this popular substance.
Clinical research carried out over the past decade demonstrates the strong benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). More recently alcoholism and autism research have also shown positive outcomes.
However, despite the progress in research, a gram of clinically made MDMA can cost researchers in the UK £10,000 compared to a street price of £30 to £40.
In 2012, the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme carried out a detailed neuroimaging study on MDMA to explain why it is so valuable for psychotherapy. We found that pleasant memories were experienced as more vivid, emotionally intense and positive with MDMA, while traumatic memories were less negative and therefore more useful in therapy.
Then, in 2015, a Beckley-sponsored study at UCL demonstrated that MDMA reduces self-criticism and improves self-compassion. We also observed increases in feelings of openness and decreased neuroticism, prolonging the benefits of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Combined, these attributes indicate that MDMA may be a powerful tool to facilitate the recall of traumatic memories in such a way that it can be useful for healing the mind.
Clinical applications of MDMA
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD has been given breakthrough status by the US Food and Drug Administration and has now reached the final phase of clinical testing before it can be approved as a licensed medicine.
To date, MDMA has been administered to over 1500 patients in controlled settings without a single emergency room visit, further demonstrating that this substance is not dangerous in and of itself. It is undeniable that the UK needs to be more open to exploring the therapeutic potential that lies in MDMA research.
I have for many years researched MDMA as well as the psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca and DMT as these compounds are all severely understudied, despite their promising clinical application. However, if the government finally acknowledges the reasoning behind the latest Roadmaps to Regulation report; relaxes restrictions on the study of MDMA; and moves towards a fully regulated market there are countless studies that could, and should, be fast-tracked for the betterment of both ill and well people.
Our report, Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA, also calls for the drug to be decriminalised.
As we enter the festive season it is inevitable that many people will be taking recreational drugs at parties and at home. In the UK over 100,000 young people have taken MDMA in the last month, and over 300,000 in the last year. Sadly, it is possible there will be some casualties and even fatalities.
Our report shows that current government policy towards MDMA contributes to this problem. The law is endangering more citizens than it is protecting – in particular, the young.
None of the adverse effects associated with MDMA, such as hyperthermia, hyponatraemia, serotonin syndrome, and isolated physiological disorders, have occurred in a clinical setting. This implies that risks could be prevented with comprehensive harm reduction advice and better regulation.
MDMA is rather unique among the other recreational substances in that it has relatively low abuse potential, with 96.5% of users indulging in MDMA less than once a month.
Mitigating risk with regulation
Under the current policy, people can only purchase MDMA from an illegal market which is not subject to any production standards. This exposes people to the risk of taking substances of far greater strength and purity. Illegality also leads to a higher potential for contamination. Many of those who do suffer an MDMA-related emergency are also less likely to seek medical help for fear of being prosecuted.
In short, zero tolerance drug policies are leading to record levels of deaths. To be more precise, in 2018 there were 92 unnecessary deaths across England and Wales – nearly two people per week and almost double the number of deaths recorded the year before.
A legally regulated market would go a long way towards mitigating the risks associated with MDMA use.
While many still consider this view controversial, it is one that is gaining support – from parents of those whose lives have been lost or ruined by harms related to the prohibition of MDMA; academics and scientists undertaking ground-breaking research into the therapeutic potential of MDMA; and former police members now fighting for reform.
We have the roadmap, ready to guide us forward, and we have the global support and the reasoning to back us, all we need now is for a bold enough government to step forward, take up its role as custodian, and move toward rescheduling and decriminalising MDMA and finally creating a strictly regulated market.
To read the report click here.