Ecstasy as Cancer Drug?

Study to test Ecstasy on terminal cancer patients (USA Today)

The illegal club drug Ecstasy can trigger euphoria among the dance club set, but can it ease the debilitating anxiety that cancer patients feel as they face their final days? The Food and Drug Administration has approved a pilot study looking at whether the recreational hallucinogen can help terminally ill patients lessen their fears, quell thoughts of suicide and make it easier for them to deal with loved ones. “End of life issues are very important and are getting more and more attention, and yet there are very few options for patients who are facing death,” Dr. John Halpern, the Harvard research psychiatrist in charge of the study, said Monday.

The small, four-month study is expected to begin early next spring. It will test the drug’s effects on 12 cancer patients from the Lahey Clinic Medical Center in the Boston area. The research is being sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit group that plans to raise $250,000 to fund it.
MAPS, on its web site, touted the study’s approval, saying “the longest day of winter has passed, and maybe so has the decades-long era of resistance to psychedelic research.”

The FDA would not comment, but this will be the second FDA-approved study using Ecstasy this year. South Carolina researchers are studying the effects of Ecstasy on 20 patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Interesting. It would be ironic indeed, though, for the FDA to approve medical use of Ecstasy, a much more potent drug, while continuing to resist the use of marijuana for similar purposes.

Radley Balko and Julian Sanchez are surprised with the level of compassion shown here.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ernie says:

    You need to watch a person die of cancer? My Mother in-law died of Lung cancer. The last month she did not know we were there. If there is a drug that could help them during the end, I say use it. My mother died of cancer also and was in a Morphine coma for the last week of her life. But for Marijuana use, it is just to make Marijuana legal. Get over the fack that marijuana is not legal.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Um, Ecstasy isn’t legal, either.

  3. Davod says:

    I don’t understand this. It was my understanding that ecstasy’s side effects are worse than other drugs. What are the benefits versus the negatives. How close to dying do you have to be for the drug to be beneficial without giving you the negative effects.

  4. JW says:

    So on the one hand, the FDA is supposed to keep drugs like Vioxx, Celebrex, and Aleve off the market due to the side effects that have only become statistically apparent as more and more people started taking them, but on the other, they can fund a study of the theraputic effects of a substance that WE ALREADY KNOW #$@% WELL has #@$#ed up kids year to year to year, killing them in some cases. Am I the only one to see a logic disconnect somewhere here?

  5. Julian Sanchez says:

    MDMA deaths are typically the result of problems like dehydration that result from unsupervised use, and wouldn’t be an issue in a clinical setting. As for other side effects, the whole point of a therapeutic trial is to assess how severe they are relative to the benefits. If you’re dying in agony or non-functional due to PTSD, you might decide the side effects weren’t all that big a deal.