How some doctors are risking everything to unleash the healing power of MDMA, ayahuasca and other hallucinogens Dr. X is a dad. Appropriately – boringly – at 4:37 p.m. on a national holiday, he is lighting a charcoal grill, about to grab a pair of tongs with one hand and a beer with the other. His kids are running around their suburban patio, which could be anywhere; Dr. X, though impressively educated now, grew up poor in a town that is basically nowhere. Like most Americans, he is a Christian. Like a lot of health-conscious men, he fights dad bod by working out once or twice a week, before going into his medical practice.
Somewhat less conventionally, two hours ago, he was escorting a woman around his yard, helping her walk off a large dose of MDMA. He's the one who'd given it to her, earlier in the morning, drugging her out of her mind.
This would be psychedelic-assisted therapy, the not-new but increasingly popular practice of administering psychotropic substances to treat a wide range of physical, psychological and psycho-spiritual concerns. "Some people stagger out" of the room in Dr. X's home that he uses for these "journeys," as sessions are called in the semiofficial parlance. Some have to stay for hours and hours beyond the standard five or so, crying or waiting to emotionally rebalance, lying on a mattress, probing the secrets, trauma, belief or grief buried in their subconscious. Dr. X recalls a patient who was considering a round-the-clock Klonopin prescription for anxiety; she reluctantly decided to try a journey instead. On the "medicine," she spent seven hours unraveling ballistically, picturing herself dumping sadness out of her chest into a jade box that she put a golden heart-shaped lock on and tossed into the sea. She'd been skeptical going in, but after it was over, Dr. X says, "She was so angry that it was illegal."
Because Dr. X's hallmark treatment – an MDMA session or two, then further journeys with psilocybin mushrooms if called for – is, absolutely, illegal. MDMA is a Schedule I controlled substance. Psilocybin is as well. Exposure could get his medical license suspended, if not revoked, along with his parental rights, or freedom. "This should be a part of health care, and is a true part of health care," he says in his defense. The oversimplified concept behind MDMA therapy, which causes intense neurotransmitter activity including the release of adrenaline and serotonin (believed to produce positive mood), is that it tamps down fear, allowing people to interact with – and deal with – parts of their psyche they otherwise can't. Psychedelics in general are thought to bring an observational part of the ego online to allow a new perspective on one's self and one's memories, potentially leading to deep understanding and healing.
As an internal-medicine specialist, Dr. X doesn't have any patients who come to him seeking psychotherapy. But the longer he does the work, the more "I'm seeing that consciousness correlates to disease," he says. "Every disease." Narcolepsy. Cataplexy. Crohn's. Diabetes – one patient's psychedelic therapy preceded a 30 percent reduction in fasting blood-sugar levels. Sufferers of food allergies discover in their journeys that they've been internally attacking themselves. "Consciousness is so vastly undervalued," Dr. X says. "We use it in every other facet in our life and esteem the intellectual part of it, but deny the emotional or intuitive part of it." Psychedelic therapy "reinvigorated my passion and belief in healing. I think it's the best tool to achieving well-being, so I feel morally and ethically compelled to open up that space."