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Home  > Health >  Fearless Aging

Andrew Weil's Latest Prescription: Take Ecstasy
by Dan Skeen

In an exclusive interview with, author and medical expert Dr. Andrew Weil explained that he would welcome the drug Ecstasy (MDMA) to his repertoire of patient recommendations if the drug was lawful.

"If it were legal I would certainly recommend it to a variety of patients," Weil said from his home in Tucson, Arizona. "I've seen chronic pain disappear as a result of one session with Ecstasy. I've seen allergies disappear. It gives you a chance to experience your body without the chronic tension that we normally impose on it. And although it doesn't teach you to maintain that, it shows you that it's possible and it can motivate you to find out how to make it happen … without the drug."

The drug, a stimulant with hallucinogenic qualities, has fostered a wealth of bad press in recent years as use has become widespread in dance clubs nationwide. 

What concerns many is the increasing amount of users in emergency rooms. ER visits related to the drug rose to 796 in 1999 from eight in 1990. Ecstasy tablets seized by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency surged to 949,257 in 2000, up from 13,342 in 1996. The National Institute of Drug Abuse documented 13 MDMA-related deaths in 1999, and points out that MDMA is a neurotoxic substance that is chemically similar to "other drugs known to cause brain damage" -- methamphetamine and mescaline.

Yet Weil sticks to his decades-old stance that “there are no bad drugs, just bad uses…The dangers of [Ecstacy] have been greatly exaggerated. They mostly result from taking it in foolish ways, such as taking high doses, dancing all night and not drinking water in a hot, enclosed space." 

While the media has often presented the psychoactive drug in a manner reminiscent of the "reefer madness" news coverage of marijuana in the 1950’s and early 1960's, Weil is quick to point out the positive qualities of Ecstasy.

Why Weil Raves About Ecstasy

"It produces a remarkable state of non-defensiveness and heart-openness, and I think that's a very useful thing for people to realize they've got that potential," he says. "It's a very good teaching tool, but has to be used in the right session and it's not something that you do all the time. It's something you learn from."

Weil may be just one step ahead of his more traditional medical community colleagues. Just four days after our Nov. 1 interview The Wall Street Journal reported that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first study of MDMA as a treatment for people with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Weil has repeatedly shown that he isn't afraid to take an unconventional stance on controversial issues. Not only has Weil taken a neutral stance on many banned substances, he has always felt it his medical duty to personally test them as well.

But Weil’s conclusions are not frivolously reached. He has spent most of his adult life studying plants, nutrition and their effects, positive and negative on human health.

His undergraduate degree from Harvard was in botany, a real backwater in the early 1960’s. Six years later, at Harvard medical school, Weil conducted the first double-blind study on the effects of marijuana. Weil managed to obtain samples of the plant legally, from the federal government, because his Harvard supervisors vouched for his impeccable anti-drug credentials. After all, six years earlier Weil had uncovered a major drug scandal at Harvard. As an undergraduate journalist for the Harvard newspaper The Crimson, Weil broke the story on Professors Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary's unsanctioned experiments with the hallucinogen, LSD.

In 1972, Weil published The Natural Mind: An Investigation of Drugs and the Higher Consciousness. He then embarked on a tour of central and South America, where he not only studied plants but indigenous peoples, their medicine and pharmacology.

What struck him most was the prevailing attitude toward drugs. He describes Indian tribes in the Amazon where each household has an abundance of coca leaves (the derivative for cocoaine) available, yet children expressed absolutely no interest in taking the drug.

"One of the things we've done foolishly is that we've made these drugs intensely interesting to young people by forbidding them and exaggerating their dangers. And it's very interesting to be in a culture where there's zero curiosity on the part of kids about these substances, and in that tribe there were no laws regulating that usage. There was a group consensus, a process of social learning."

Weil's words are taken seriously by the medical community. He has been a groundbreaker when it comes to combining nutrition, stress reduction and holistic, or what he calls "integrative", health. Those who once scoffed at his marijuana studies have seen his efforts vindicated by growing acceptance of the drug's medicinal purposes. But if that drug's road to legalization is any indicator, we won't be seeing Ecstasy on drug store shelves any time soon.

Related Stories
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• Prozac: Wonder Drug or Dime Store Therapy?

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Related Stories
• `60s Fallout: Alcoholics Who Use Drugs, Too
• Prozac: Wonder Drug or Dime Store Therapy?

Web Links
• National Institute on Drug Abuse

Related Books
• From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs, by Andrew Weil and Winnifred Rosen
• The Natural Mind: An Investigation of Drugs and the Higher Consciousness, by Andrew Weil
• Ecstasy: The Complete Guide, Julie Holland M.D.

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