(Editor's note: the following is an account of a volunteer who participated in the Harbor-UCLA Phase I research investigation of the effects of 3,4-Methelenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in humans.)
Friday May 26th
I was sunning on the apartment porch reading my latest copy of MAPS. Finished the research update article on Dr. Grob's MDMA study at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. A bold-typed excerpt stuck in my mind: "We are interested in recruiting individuals who have personally used MDMA in excess of several hundred times and who are willing to undergo brain imaging procedures as well as psychiatric and neuropsychological evaluation." Perfect, I thought. I had just concluded two years of MDMA self-therapy in which I dosed two to four times a week and I wanted to know if there was any evidence of toxicity. Called Dr. Grob and told him briefly what I'd been doing with MDMA. He said he'd be interested in having me in the study. Said his assistant would call within a few days to work out the details.
Wednesday May 31st
Got a call from the assistant and she took a verbal history of my drug usage (recreational and medicinal). Felt myself being a little defensive about the substances and frequency and asked her if I seemed testy. She said yes, so I apologized and said I didn't want to self-select myself out of the study before I even got in. She chuckled and asked if I could come in the following Tuesday. I said yes.
Tuesday June 6th
Met with the assistant and answered a two hour battery of questions which was referred to as a Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III (SCID). Appeared to be a standard screening interview designed to screen those with mental disorders. Looked like I was passing until I brought up my predilection for becoming involved in relationships that sooner or later sent me into an emotional tailspin. The ensuing depressions I would feel apparently weren't considered pathological enough to disqualify me. I felt mildly comforted by not being diagnosed as having a history of clinical depression.
Tuesday June 13th
Underwent two hours of neuropsychological testing. Had fun. Felt like I was in pre-school. When it was all over, the psychologist seemed impressed so I said, "Well, looks like drugs don't turn your brains to fried eggs after all." "Yeah, you could have been a rocket scientist," she somewhat seriously scolded. "And blown up the world," I countered. She smiled and let it drop.
Went to a nearby building and got a mini-physical and answered questions about my medical and health history. There was no physical reason precluding my participation in the study so all that remained was to begin the preliminary MRI and SPECT brain scans. I was told that it could be weeks before I could get those scheduled.
Saturday July 22nd
It had been over five weeks. Finally the scans were scheduled for today. I arrived at the imaging center and got an injection of radioactive dye for the SPECT scan. Since it would take around a half hour for the dye to get into the brain, I was sent over to the MRI building and spent the next hour and forty minutes with my full body encased within what I imagined an iron lung must have been like. In spite of the humming and clanking sounds which the assistant told me were due to the electricity involved, I was able to drift in thought enough to make the time seem shorter. Went back for the half hour SPECT scan afterwards and felt much more comfortable as this procedure only required the enclosure of my head and it was comparatively noise free. I left feeling excited about having finished all the preliminary steps prior to the actual MDMA sessions.
Friday July 28 - Medicine Day One
6:30 AM - Woke up! Much earlier than usual. Arranged for a ride to the hospital - otherwise I would have had to stay overnight since they won't release anyone unless they're picked up at the end of the day. Having grown up a military brat I can be quite comfortable with institutionalized surroundings and procedures. I even welcomed them in this study. But on a Friday night after taking pharmaceutical MDMA, I thought I'd rather go dancing than stay overnight in a hospital (thank you very much anyway for the concern over my safety).
8:30 AM - Arrived at the Clinical Studies Center (CSC) on the fifth floor of the hospital. Found out there are always several ongoing studies of various kinds in progress - the MDMA study was just one of them. Felt cranky from not enough sleep. I was sad over being in the midst of what seemed to be another failed attempt at a relationship resurrection. Figured that the way things were going, today would be the placebo day.
8:45 AM - Greeted nurse. Signed consent form while she took initial blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Had height and weight measured. 73.5 kilos -- that would mean that if this is not placebo day, today's dose would be either 1.75 mg or 2.5 mg times my weight, i.e. 128 mg or 183 mg. Felt a little better.
9:00 AM - Was taken to my room and got my official patient wristband. A urine sample was collected. I was then served a decent breakfast by hospital standards. There was another guy already assigned to my room from a diabetes study. I felt concern over having to watch the O.J. Simpson trial during my MDMA experience.
9:30 AM - Dr. Grob came by to meet me and talk. Fortunately, he saw to it that I got a private room and I was transferred before we started talking.
10:00 AM - The nurse reviewed the stuff I'd be filling out at regular intervals for the rest of the day. Starting at 1:45 PM, I was to indicate my alertness and mood every 15 minutes by marking the appropriate places on the "Altered States Graphic Profile." Several other times I'd be filling out a "Profile of Mood States" and a "Self Evaluation Questionnaire." Only once, near the end, would I be completing the "Hallucinogenic Rating Scale." All this seemed clear and there was not much to do for a couple of hours so I took a nap.
12:30 AM - Before my blood was drawn, a butterfly needle was inserted into my arm to facilitate the blood-draws that would be done every half hour until 8:00 PM. I didn't find this distracting at all. Next my pulse and temperature were taken. This would also be done every half hour until 8:00 PM.
2:00 PM - Nurse came in and said she had my "medicine." It was charming to hear MDMA referred to in that way. I sat up eagerly as she opened the first little manila envelope labeled "Session 1, MDMA Study, Capsule A." I would have preferred the full dose all at once but an FDA rule required that 20 percent be given first to see if there would be an adverse reaction.
2:20 PM - It was time for capsule B of my medicine. Was a little excited as I swallowed the second large blue capsule and wondered if I had gotten a full dose of sugar or of MDMA (128 mg or 183 mg). Put my pen and paper in hand, looked out the window and waited.
3:00 PM - It wasn't placebo day. Felt a familiar little tingle in my mouth and lightness in my limbs. The room seemed brighter and so did my mood. My sense of smell was heightened and I wished I'd worn a fresher T-shirt. When the nurse came in for the vitals and the blood-draw, I apologized for being cranky in the morning. The MDMA felt milder than what I was used to so I thought I had probably taken the lower of the two doses. I wasn't used to taking MDMA alone so I didn't feel the added euphoria of cannabis. I used to take a beta-blocker to avoid any teeth clenching or muscular tightness but I didn't feel any need for that at all.
3:30 PM - Nurse came by to take an EKG. Wished I had a Polaroid so I could have an EKG photo taken as a souvenir similar to Rick Doblin's photo in MAPS (Vol IV #4). Blood pressure was up to 164 over 94. Felt very pleasant with none of the tiredness or crankiness mentioned earlier.
4:00 PM - Called my ex-girlfriend to wish her a nice weekend. Felt no resentment that she was going to be spending it with another guy.
4:30 PM - Blood pressure began to drop. Still felt in that familiar place of physical and psychological comfort. A wonderful effect. No sense of urgency or speediness yet a pronounced feeling of heightened energy and relaxed musculature. My voice was deeper and more resonant. Chronic tightness in the throat as well as elsewhere was suspended. The energized calmness felt like it could be the birthright of optimum human neurochemistry achieved through a loving upbringing and a nurturing environment. Fear and pain seemed to be the main obstacles to such a state of consciousness. I knew that MDMA suspended pain and increased energy, empathy and relaxation while offering the potential of mental clarity and self insight. I hoped it would also be free of neurotoxicity as well. I felt that such a tool could be more than helpful for individual and social healing. A thought seemed clear - the problem with the War on Drugs is that it targets the pain killer instead of the killer pain.
5:00 PM - Blood pressure still up at 152/98 and effects began subsiding but remained as an emotional backdrop. I did a little stretching and spent some time reading. Found myself enjoying thoughts of dancing later in the evening.
8:00 PM - The last vitals and blood-draw were taken and my ride showed up a few minutes later. I gathered up my stuff, signed the release form and made my departure official by having my patient wristband cut off. It felt wonderful to go out into the night air of summer and ride home to get my dancing clothes.
Friday August 4th - Medicine Day Two
Arrived at the hospital around 8:30 AM and enjoyed the familiarity of seeing some of the staff I'd met last week. Went through the same preliminary procedure as before, only this time I was a couple of pounds lighter. I felt a little disappointment as I realized that meant a loss of a few milligrams in dosage if today was to be another non-placebo day. I could also feel some jealously over my ex's trip last weekend so I was hoping I'd get the real thing today.
Got my first capsule at 2:00 PM and thought I'd gotten a mouth tingle twelve minutes later. Got capsule two at 2:20 PM. By 2:45 PM I knew I was having another non-placebo day. I assumed it would be stronger than last week and therefore would be the 180 mg dose. Took a deep breath, relaxed and started paying attention to changes in myself. As expected, the room brightened up, my mood elevated and my limbs felt light. I found myself in that familiar place of being relaxedly energized. Began having loving thoughts toward my ex. I could feel my inner tension dissipate as I imagined holding her. I remembered that sex with her had been loving, present, honoring and sometimes ceremonial when I felt the passion of spirit connecting through flesh. It felt like we were a part of the Earth loving itself through the embrace of our clay bodies. It seemed so natural to think of loving times while on MDMA - times when life is without strife - when clay is at play.
By 4:00 PM the effects were diminishing and I felt less influenced than I remembered feeling at this time last week. I figured I must have taken the smaller dose - unless of course, I had already taken the placebo. I found this idea tantalizing and fantasized that the effects of MDMA could be created without the drug. It seemed that the neurochemical configuration is what is important - not so much the mechanism of configuration (unless it's toxic). Even if MDMA proves to have some toxicity, the positive effects are worth documenting and creating with some other delivery system - meditation, yoga, bowling, whatever. By 4:45 PM I was a little tired and bored compared to earlier. Found myself looking forward to leaving and dancing. After being discharged at 8:00 PM, I did both.
Friday August 11th - "Medicine" Day Three
The only thing that really seemed interesting about this day was the possibility that I had already taken the placebo and that today would be a real dose. By 3:00 PM however, I knew that this was indeed the placebo day and the absence of an increase in blood pressure and pulse served to confirm my conclusion. I cuddled up with my book and made the best of the situation by having a relaxing day in bed. I was served a tasty dinner at 8:00 PM and released shortly thereafter. Said my goodbyes to the staff that was still there and left for home. I didn't go dancing that night.
I did the MRI and SPECT scans on the next day (Saturday). The MRI was only about an hour and the SPECT was a half hour as before. Hard to imagine that much could have changed from two doses.
On the following Monday I met with the same psychologist as before and took some more neuropsychological tests. Only took around a half an hour instead of two hours. I enjoyed the tests as much as before. As I was leaving, the doctor said, "well, you can go ahead back to doing whatever it is that you do." I thanked her, then drove home feeling pleased with my participation in the study.
Dr. Grob will be furnishing me with all the data collected from me during the study and I look forward to reviewing it in detail. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the study and I hope Dr. Grob achieves all his objectives. I also hope that MDMA proves to be safe when responsibly used. I know one thing, if I were a terminal cancer patient, I would definitely volunteer for his next study.
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