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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


Exploring Ecstasy: A Description of MDMA Users

Beck, Jerome; Harlow, Deborah; McDonnell, Douglas; Morgan, Patricia A.; Rosenbaum, Marsha; and Watson, Lynne. (1989).
San Francisco: Institute for Scientific Analysis.


ISBN: none

Description: Photocopied on both sides of the leaves, spiral-bound with a clear plastic front cover and a textured blue, heavy paper back cover, vi + 253 pages.

Contents: 9 chapters, references, Appendix: Notices for "Acid House" in the Bay Area, 3 tables.

Note: Final Report to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Grant #1 R01 DA04408.

Excerpt(s): This study of MDMA is based on the fundamental assumption that the definitions, meanings and categories used by actors themselves are important factors in structuring their activities. All social scientific theories, no matter how abstract, are built upon this "common sense" phenomena. Thus, this study utilizes the theoretical perspectives of phenomenology and symbolic interactionalism and the methodology of grounded theory. (page 12)

We employed the "grounded theory" method, which is based on the notion that data should be collected and analyzed in a way that follows the basic social, psychological and structural processes inherent in a given phenomenon to emerge naturally. In the initial phases of data collection, the researcher begins with a few preconceived ideas about the phenomenon. The research proceeds by exploring these areas, and through this exploration, other areas appear which had not been initially apparent. These new areas are then pursued. (page 17).

Spirituality was the third major motivating theme and, although there were hints of this dimension in most experiences, for some respondents their first experience was primarily a powerful and memorable spiritual event. Common descriptions included: "I was at peace with myself and the world." "Feeling the oneness of Humanity." "An awareness (or a reminder) of the Cosmic without its actual experience." "It opens doors to other realities." As with other types of experiences, the set and setting were often congruent with and supportive of spiritual awareness, although for some this level of experience was unexpected (and enjoyed). Spiritual guides were responsible for the first experience of MDMA for some respondents. ...

The most frequently reported spiritual dimension was a profound feeling of connectedness with all of nature and humankind. These feelings were apparent even in some of the most hedonistic "party time" users who had not expected or been cued about the possibility.

A 39-year-old mother of three children who had almost no previous drug experience said she had no preconceptions about MDMA when she first took it on a secluded beach. She illustrated the spiritual and therapeutic overlap in describing her "bliss" and her decision to leave her husband in what we have come to call a "no fault break-up," which describes a tendency to accept the ending of a relationship without blame and acrimony and with compassion:

...I experienced my essence...I had only been experiencing a small part of me. I felt this tremendous love for myself...I felt so happy, blissed-out, beautiful, and free, free, free...I went for a walk and figured out my whole life...I decided to get a divorce.

A 40-year old woman, who was a middle-class housewife and very negative about drugs before her experience with MDMA is now a self-professed New Ager. She describes her trip:

...I was conscious of my body...my heart got to swell out...I moved into a space of consciousness where I experienced everything as one experience...you never see things the same again...A classic Cosmic Experience...I felt warmth and flowing...a release of those blocks in me...I realized I was finished with my husband...I love him...but I'm done...

Both these respondents reported that they did leave their spouses with a minimum of trauma and also changed their life patterns.

There was also a group of respondents who found MDMA to be a "reminder" of past spiritual or cosmic experiences: "MDMA (and LSD) are good reminders of things we forget in day to day life." This attribute was appreciated especially by those who wanted a more "grounded in the here and now" type of voyage:

The window, or door to transcendence was deeply enjoyable, without the necessity of actually stepping through. It recalled past spiritual feelings, but it was not focused on spirituality itself...more in the present...good feelings now, less cosmic. (pages 85-87)



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