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Using MDMA to Treat Trauma

We’re at an interesting time in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse. We’re trying things that many haven’t even considered in the past–and they’re showing promising results. 

 

Specifically, I’m talking about the use of plant medicine psychedelics–what used to be illicit drugs–in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse conditions. 

Can Ecstasy Help with Mental Health?

I find it so ironic, MDMA, which is commonly known as ecstasy or molly, is being recognized as therapy. 

 

Kids, including me, prior to getting sober, are running around and dancing on this stuff. Man, I felt bad about it, like I shouldn’t be taking this stuff, it’s bad for me. But, man, it just felt so good because when you take ecstasy or molly or whatever it would feel like love. It’s just you feel loved.  

 

On one end it’s a drug. But on the other hand, it feels like love. 

 

So it’s an interesting time now, they’re bringing what used to be a street drug to give people the experience of feeling loved as a way to heal…and that’s all MDMA does.

MDMA and PTSD 

MAPS right now, I think they’re in their third clinical trial. Currently, you can legally use MDMA in the United States for the treatment of trauma. The study they did was on veterans with PTSD. MDMA was by far the most powerful treatment that they found for treating complex PTSD for veterans. 

 

I don’t recall the exact statistics, you can look them up, but it was something like 70% of people that did the pre-therapy sessions, MDMA sessions, and the follow-up sessions no longer met the criteria for PTSD. 

 

I think it’s a total of five sessions totaling 10 hours. The MDMA sessions, I think, are four to six hours. 

 

Ten hours. Do you know how hard it is to treat PTSD with other methods? 

 

I’ve tried to help people, I have a treatment program for PTSD. It’s incredibly difficult. It takes years. But MDMA could, within a couple of weeks or so, be effective enough where you don’t meet the criteria for PTSD anymore. 

 

What’s happening in that experience? There’s some technical interesting stuff happening with the brain and the amygdala so you don’t feel so defensive and you’re able to be in your body and feel comfortable and safe…so that’s interesting. 

 

I was a kid and I took ecstasy when I was 15 years old. I remember the feeling. It was love. I could produce a feeling of love that heals my PTSD with another person that’s there holding the container for me in a therapeutic way. So I find that very exciting. 

Drawbacks of MDMA as Therapy?

I’m conservative about all of this stuff because I know human beings find great ways to fuck things up. We can take a good thing and fuck it up. 

 

So, on the one hand, I’m involved in the discourse and the conversation about these medicines coming into recovery, which is tricky. What does it mean to be in recovery by possibly using MDMA for trauma treatment? I don’t think it’ll be as complicated as it sounds, but it will be a little bit complicated. 

 

MDMA can be addictive, although it’s not many people’s drug of choice. You can definitely overdo it and there are risk factors to doing too much MDMA. It’s largely around serotonin or serotonin syndrome and probably other issues that we’re not even aware of. 

 

I’m excited about combining a drug like MDMA with therapy. Because recently–I’d say in the last 60 years–those two fields have been kind of split. 

Integrating Medications and Therapy

You go to see a psychiatrist and ask for medication. They give you a prescription, and, hopefully, you’re on your way. 

 

You go to a therapist and they’re doing therapy with you. They don’t prescribe medications, just more therapy.

 

So something people are talking about with this plant medicine MDMA stuff is bringing medications and therapy together. You do the medication. You do the therapy on the medication. That’s kind of cool. It’s a new way of integrating medications and therapy.

 

It’s bringing two somewhat distinct fields together in a particular act, for the sake of healing, which I think is worth investigating. 

 

I’m excited about it. I’m always conservative. I’m always like, “Hey, slow down, let’s be careful. Who can this work for? Who can’t this work for?” There’s a lot to talk about with MDMA. 

 

But, in general, I think it’s worth people knowing because these are experiences that can help people heal and transform.

 

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Why “God” Is Such an Important Word

Probably the simplest, most difficult, complicated, controversial, and important concept in spirituality–and I’d probably say reality–is God. 

 

Sometimes it doesn’t feel right to even talk about God. Who are we to talk about God? Who am I to talk about God? 

 

If I’m being more honest and vulnerable–I guess in a moment like you ask God to talk through you–we could see that the reality of God is the most important phenomenon, the most important expression for humanity and for our survival.

Revelations about God

In Judaism, there’s a story about a man named Abraham who had a revelation that there was a Creator of the Universe. This Creator cared about the universe and particularly cared about every individual human. 

 

Imagine being Abraham, having that Revelation and that Truth. Imagine having the experience of God at a time where people didn’t think about God in that way. 

 

People thought about local gods; the god of the wind, the god of this, and the god of that…not about the Creator of the Universe–one that cared about people. 

 

Imagine you had kids, brothers, sisters, friends, and you knew this was truer than anything you ever knew. Imagine how important it would be for you to want to transmit that to your kids, family, and community–you just got to share there’s a God. 

Origins of Religion

When we think about it that way, to me, it becomes very obvious how religion started. 

 

How do I encode this and make sure my kids know and their kids know? 

 

I’m gonna write a song or story about it. Let me write a prayer or make sure I write it down. I’ll create a dance. I got to make sure that we all know that we’re here for a reason and that we’re cared about. It’s also our job to care about each other.

 

Martin Buber is a famous philosopher and Jewish thinker who passed away a long time ago. In his book, Eclipse of God, he talks about the importance of not abandoning the word “God”. 

 

He didn’t talk about whether God exists or not because he’s probably too smart to talk about whether God exists–unlike me. 

 

But he says, we must not abandon the word because you can’t find a word like it. He says, in the inner treasure chamber of the smartest philosophers with the most crystalline, pure, pristine, diamond, shining ideas, you will never find a word like God. 

 

It’s a word that’s been consecrated on many tongues for all time. A word that represents people dying and people living and people’s worst moments and people’s best moments that’s been in the mouths of men since the beginning of the beginning. 

 

He said, “Where can you find a word like that?” I think he’s smart, he doesn’t talk about God, he talks about the word because the word points at reality.

The Shared Soul We Call “God”

It’s like a soul. Some people don’t think they have a soul. That’s weird to me. Really, you don’t think you have a soul? 

 

Because I can feel your soul…because it’s you. You don’t think the world has a soul? What about the cosmos? What about the universe? Just us that has a soul? 

 

You can’t see the soul in your pet dog? The pet dog has a soul and you have a soul, but the world doesn’t have a soul

 

We all don’t have a shared soul that we call God? A source that cares, that’s deep, that’s transformative, loves, knows that order will conquer chaos, love will conquer evil, and that this whole drama that we all live in is actually about something? 

 

You don’t think so? 

 

That’s HaShem which in Hebrew translates, Ha just means The, and Shem means Name. There is no name, it’s just The Name.

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Are‌ ‌We‌ ‌Dreaming‌ ‌Reality?‌

There are two more ideas in the domain of spirituality that I think are helpful. And maybe I’ll paint the picture this way: There is a group of new-age thinkers–and I think I fall along these lines–I don’t know if it’s true or not, but just as a different way of understanding reality. 

 

This theory states that the brain is not an organ that produces consciousness. But in fact, consciousness is the fundamental nature of reality. 

Our Brains: A Fabrication?

So let’s further do it. Reality is a dream. The brain is an organ that’s being dreamt of by the “Great Dreamer in the Sky”. That creates the dream of the universe. That dream… It dreams of a thing called the brain which we have in our heads.

 

The function of that “dream brain thing” is to filter out the vast majority of reality. But also to tune in so that we can function. 

 

And so they talk about the brain as like a radio receiver — not an organ that filters and receives; not something that produces. 

 

And so if you think about that model, which I like, I think it accounts actually for more of what I’ve experienced than more of a materialistic model where we build the brain up and out. I think we build in.

All Part of One

If we think about reality in that way, then what we understand is that we’re all part of one whole, completely connected organism. And that the experience that we’re having as an individual is just an experience we get to have for a period of time–before we are brought back into some different form of being connected to this organism or somewhere else. 

 

So when you think about spirituality from that perspective, it’s just changed the sort of fundamental orientation of how I think about reality altogether. Then a term like the Collective Unconscious or Cosmic Consciousness makes a lot of sense. 

 

It means that at certain moments, the filter might come down a little more. And you get a glimpse–in a dream of revelation or a moment of clarity–about the larger conscious field that you are always a part of but usually not aware of. 

 

And Cosmic Consciousness has to do with consciousness beyond the human species. And, in fact, beyond all species. It’s like more than a glimpse. It’s a mystical experience of the point, reason, and being of the Cosmos. 

 

Which is something you could never put into language, but you might be able to experience it. 

 

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What’s Sacred? How Does It Become Sacred?

I went to school to study to be a Rabbi–which was a trippy experience. I kind of recommend it for some people, if you’re interested. 

 

I had a professor who asked an interesting question about the Old Testament, which we call the Torah. Namely, the five books of Moses–or a piece of the Old Testament. And he said, “Is this book sacred?” 

 

I’m not Orthodox, you know? So I’m not an incredibly traditional Jew. As you can see, I’m not wearing the kippah or stuff like that. It was an interesting question for a non-fundamentalist, non-traditionalist Jew to say, “Is this book sacred?”

 

Very tough question to answer. 

What Makes Something Sacred?

And if it’s sacred, why? I could ask a different question: What is sacred in your life? Here we go…A family. 

 

And anything else that’s sacred in your life? And what makes it sacred? What gives something the kind of authority that it transcends what we would call the ordinary to the level of sacred?

 

Wow. And I would say there is a lot that’s sacred. 

 

The place that I start with people who have a hard time with that notion–like the metaphysical notion of the sacred, is ancestors. 

 

If we study anthropology and go back historically to look at tribal peoples long before organized religion–before Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism. I think about most of those older shamanic tribal traditions or ancestor traditions. Even in Judaism when we pray, we pray to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, etc. Those are our ancestors. 

 

There’s something about our ancestors–those who have passed–that’s sacred. It’s just somebody who’s an atheist and is wrestling with entering into spiritual domains…that’s an interesting conversation.

Atheism, Sacred Meaning, and Cemeteries

How would you feel about pissing on a grave? 

 

Are you desecrating something? What if nobody ever knew about it? Like nobody saw you do it. You peed on a grave. Well, if there’s no metaphysical reality, nothing sacred, who cares? The person’s dead. Why wouldn’t you pee on the grave? 

 

If there was some good incentive on the other side, if I’m peeing on the grave, I would want to pee on the grave. Because we have a sense that it’s a taboo or something about desecrating the dead. 

 

Well, why is that? They’re dead, who cares? You know you’re an atheist. They’re fucking worms and fertilizer. Who gives a shit?

 

But for most people still, there’s something there. It’s a boundary they don’t want to cross. They say, “Well, there’s actually something about that, that’s wrong.” 

 

I’m like, in a relative way? Just like wrong for some people, or is it wrong for everybody? And you know people…push them hard enough and they are thinking and honest enough, there is something there that feels like it should not be violated. 

Identifying the Sacred During Modern Times

And for me, that is so important, especially in these times. We live in this hypermodernity with hyper-information and hyper-reality. You know, these slogan-y terms. 

 

But if my kids aren’t in touch with the fact that there are elements of life that are sacred and in fact, if my kids aren’t in touch with the fact that they are sacred–their being and their soul is sacred–I have a big problem with that.

 

The recognition of the sacred as part and parcel of the spiritual tradition that’s been handed down to us as a fundamental creates the kind of boundaries that allow a society to not only thrive, but probably just exist at all, is crucial.

 

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