Above, New Scientist's Graham Lawton describes his experience as a test subject in a groundbreaking study on MDMA, the recreational drug commonly known as ecstasy. The research is being led by David Nutt, a former chief drug advisor to the UK who was dismissed from his position in 2009 after criticizing the government's classification of illegal substances and their potential for inflicting harm. (Nutt famously stated that ecstasy was statistically no more dangerous than an addiction to horse-riding.)
Today, Nutt remains one of the few researchers in the UK licensed to study Class A drugs, those substances thought to pose the greatest harm, or potential harm, to individuals and society. (Class A drugs include substances like LSD, heroin, morphine, cocaine and, yes, ecstasy.) Earlier this year, Nutt and his colleagues published one of the most comprehensive studies to date on the neurological effects of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical (and a Class A substance) found in magic mushrooms.
Now, Nutt is leading what Lawton says is the first study to ever examine what ecstasy does to the human brain. It's an investigation that Nutt thinks could reveal the drug's therapeutic potential as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder:
The hypothesis was that MDMA would make the negative memories less painful. "We saw a boosted brain response to positive memories, and a weaker response to negative ones," says Carhart-Harris [a member of Nutt's team]. "It fits the idea that MDMA can help people access negative memories without being overwhelmed by them and they might be able to change the way they feel about what happened."
Read more about this fascinating research, and Lawton's experience as a test subject, over on New Scientist.