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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

Pursuit of Ecstasy: The MDMA Experience.

Beck, Jerome, and Rosenbaum, Marsha. (1994).
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

ISBN: 0-7914-1818-9 paperback

0-7914-1817-0 hardcover

Description: Paperback, xii + 239 pages. SUNY Series in New Social Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Contents: Acknowledgments, 7 chapters, 8 appendices: A. Theory and Methodology, B. Respondent Demographics, C. Respondent Drug Use: Lifetime and Current Use, D. Respondent Drug Preference and Changes in Use, E. National Institute on Drug Abuse Capsule on MDMA, F. American Flight Guides: MDMA Instructional Pamphlets of the Early 1980's, G. British Harm Reduction Pamphlets, H. Rave Flyers, chapter notes, references, index.

Excerpt(s): Spirituality-a "transmaterial world view," as New Age writer Mark Satin called it-is an essential part of New Age philosophy. New Agers and other spiritual seekers have used a wide variety of techniques to raise their consciousness in attempting to achieve oneness with God and/or the universe. Many have studied Eastern religions, which have been teaching such techniques for centuries. In the 1960's, psychedelic drug use increasingly became a part of the New Age social worlds.

It is not surprising that after nearly thirty years of the association between psychedelics and spirituality, a strong belief that such drugs can serve as an adjunct has become firmly entrenched. Respondents who were engaged in New Age or other spiritual pursuits were particularly eager to try MDMA because of its reputed empathic, bonding, and psychedelic properties. One woman, who was the child of an alcoholic father and attended self-help groups to deal with childhood traumas , described her motivation: "I am very interested in spirituality. ... I was studying Eastern religion, and I studied crystals, and I always looked at things outside myself. ... [MDMA] is almost like being close to God." (page 37-38)

Although spiritually oriented respondents were generally impressed with their MDMA experiences, they differed as to what they had actually experienced, how it had influenced their lives, and whether or not the insights gained during the experience had permanently enhanced their spiritual lives. A 24-year-old Bhakti yoga practitioner explained how MDMA helped guide her on a spiritual path:

Bhakti is the yoga of devotion, and I'm trying to see every experience in life as leading us closer to God and bringing out a more loving, harmonious way of being with other people and generally just having a devotional attitude. ... MDMA's been very useful from a Bhakti yoga perspective, because it's very heart-opening and that's what you try to do in Bhakti yoga. So I think that it could have potential for people who want to learn to do that who don't already know how, especially.

Another respondent, who had studied Eastern religions while retaining some of his earlier Christian beliefs, offered similar remarks on MDMA's effect on his spirituality: "It certainly makes me feel a confirmation that there is sort of an equity in life, certain equity between the of people and equity in the balance of the life of man and the life of other forms on earth ... certainly that man is a part of the web of life on earth." (page 89)

The positive feelings experienced by many of our respondents while on Ecstasy-those of tolerance, forgiveness, validation-filled a void, even in the short space of a minivacation. These were feelings, unanimously described as positive, that individuals did not experience in their everyday lives. But in order to experience long-term benefits, it was necessary for people to work at it. It is here that the importance of social worlds and the perspective provided by these worlds become evident. In order for individuals to carry MDMA-induced insights with them, they had to pay attention to these insights, as well as the lessons learned. This is part of the definition of the usefulness of psychedelic experiences-from the therapeutic perspective. As our therapeutically oriented respondents reported, although feelings experienced on MDMA were very real, unless they purposefully set out to make them permanent (however that might be accomplished), they would have to wait until the next trip to pursue ecstasy. Whereas the recreational user, by definition, might expect few long-term benefits, this would not be acceptable to individuals immersed in the world of therapy who take Ecstasy for instrumental reasons.

In sum, regarding the bottom line-whether Ecstasy has long-term benefits-it is membership in social worlds that is crucial. Respondents who used MDMA for spiritual or therapeutic reasons tended to retain benefits. Recreational users who were more interested in getting high got high and had fewer lasting benefits. (pages 92-93)

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