MDMA-assisted therapy is becoming increasingly more researched around the world and it shouldn’t be too long now before one nation decides to make it accessible to the public. It is evident that this substance’s reputation is shifting from dangerous party to drug to genuine therapeutic drug. MDMA allows people to see the world differently and themselves.
Well, this story about a man named Brendan; and how this substance turned him away from his extremist views will certainly prove the powers that the drug has. Let’s find out more.
What is MDMA?
Before we dive into this quite remarkable story, let’s first understand what MDMA actually is.
MDMA stands for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. MDMA is commonly known as ecstasy, but it’s also referred to as “molly” when sold in its pure crystalline form. It is known for its stimulant and empathogenic effects, often leading to increased feelings of emotional closeness and empathy towards others. Many people like to call this substance the ‘love drug’, due to how it makes people feel closer to others. For decades, MDMA was seen as a solely dangerous party drug. However, views are beginning to shift. Nature writes:
“US could soon approve MDMA therapy — opening an era of psychedelic medicine. Perceptions have shifted dramatically in the past few years on the therapeutic value of illicit drugs such as ecstasy. But questions still linger about what FDA approval might look like.”
What was once a pointless recreational substance, may now be the perfect cure for PTSD, anxiety, depression and many other mental ailments. As research continues, more and more evidence pointing towards its benefits are being released. But what about using MDMA to change an extremists views?
Brendan: the White Supremacist
Brendan – left nameless as he wants to distance himself from his white extremist past – was once a Trump supporter, racist and sexist. He grew up in Chicago, from a middle-class family, and studied at the University of Illinois. However, whilst he was there, he was supposedly sucked into extremism by a fraternity. He was surrounded by Republican white men and began reading antisemitic books and began researching sexist and racist content online. Brendan – when interviewed by MDMA specialist Rachel Nuwer for the BBC – said this about Donald Trump:
“His speech talking about Mexicans being rapists, the fixation on the border wall and deporting everyone, the Muslim ban – I didn’t really get white nationalism until Trump started running for president”
In order to surround himself with people that shared the same views, Brendan joined extremist group: Identity Evropa. He soon rose up the ranks and became the coordinator for the Midwest groups. Identity Envropa, started in 2016, was a white supremacist group that believed in segregation of the USA. It was most famous for its participation in the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally.
However, it no longer goes by this name. The negative publicity around the group meant that, in 2019, it reformed to: American Identitarian Movement. This group was then also disbanded in 2020. Why couldn’t the group stay together? Well, Brendan and more than 100 other members of the I.E. were publicly shamed by an anti-fascist group, as they revealed all of their identities. This caused him to be fired from his job, and destroyed a lot of his friends and family relationships.
Depressed, poor and alone – Brendan did not have much going for him in 2020. However, he then saw a Facebook ad about clinical trials. He applied and he was accepted – his main aim was to get a little bit of extra cash. Little did he know, he was about to take a pill containing 110mg of MDMA.
This trial by Harriet De Wilt, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago, was testing whether MDMA increased the pleasantness of social touch in healthy volunteers. One day, during this trial, de Wit was given some shocking news. She was told that a participant – named Brendan – had left a rather strange note at the bottom of his fill out form after the experiment. This is what he had written:
“This experience has helped me sort out a debilitating personal issue. Google my name. I now know what I need to do – Brendan”
After the scientists had researched who Brendan was, they were of course terrified at what might have been about to happen. This man was an extremist and could perhaps do something awful. However, their fears were wrong. Instead, it went in the entirely other direction. He had found inner connection, he had found love. Love, according to Brendan, was the only thing that mattered.
The Mind Alteration
So what had happened to this once racist and sexist individual? Well, supposedly, he had had a rather profound epiphany. As he was being lightly touched during the experiment, it began to make him feel a lot happier. But, not only that, Brendan suddenly had a desire to change. He felt he had spent too much time surrounding himself with ideas of hate, and instead wanted connection. After the experiment, he got in contact with the anti-fascist group in Chicago that had revealed so many member’s identities, and asked him for help to be better. The anti-fascist activist – for undercover purposes – will be described as S here:
“S was sceptical when Brendan claimed that MDMA had made him want to prioritize connecting with other people above all else. But he was heartened when Brendan started taking steps that seemed to indicate his sincere commitment to change. Brendan hired a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant to advise him, enrolled in therapy, began meditating, and started working his way through a list of educational books”
The work Brendan has done since his MDMA-induced revelation is certainly promising. That’s not to say he has eradicated all racist and sexist thoughts, or completely changed, but it’s definitely a start. According to Brendan, he is learning how to deal with these toxic thoughts, rather than giving into them.
The story of Brendan and his change from white supremacist to promoter of lover is rather extraordinary. In a way, it would make quite the Hollywood film. But, what can we actually learn from this example? One thing to note is that many extremists admit to taking MDMA, and this does not change their views. Instead, it actually gives them the self-love to continue their path. For instance, some members of the Taliban use this substance.
What this means is that MDMA itself does not have the power to make people ‘good’ – if there even is such a thing. Looking at Brendan’s life when he came to take MDMA, he was lost and alone. His white supremacist past had not done him any favors, and he had lost his friends, family and job. Perhaps, deep down, at this point in his life he desperately wanted connection. These clinic MDMA trials gave him the opportunity to find that at the perfect time.
“This is stuff you can’t really put into words, but it was so profound… I conceived of my relationships with other people not as distinct boundaries with distinct entities, but more as we-are-all-one. I realised I’d been fixated on stuff that doesn’t really matter, and is just so messed up, and that I’d been totally missing the point. I hadn’t been soaking up the joy that life has to offer.”
It’s hard to say whether MDMA was the cause of this mind-shift, or whether it gave Brendan the allowance to see what was already there. If it is true that our natural states of being are to promote love, kindness and empathy – then perhaps MDMA lightly pushed him towards his true self. Just as he was so swayed by extremist views at university, perhaps he was just as easily pushed away from them.
This story is a beautiful one, but should not be blown out of proportion. No one should come away from reading this thinking that MDMA can somehow cure the world of extremist views. Sadly, the world is just not that simple. However, this story does prove that MDMA-assisted therapy gives room for even the most hating and closed up individuals to find love and connection. There are millions of people out there who choose hate over love perhaps because it is what they see in the world. What if MDMA can help them to see a brighter, more beautiful view?
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