This interview study assessed the experiences of adult couples (n=8) who self-reported active MDMA use. Four overarching themes were identified: Conscious Use, A Tool for Exploring, Planned Recovery, and Difficult Experiences. Couples collaborated on becoming “set” for their experience and described positive effects on communication, intimate bonding, and providing a relationship “tune-up,” among other durable changes to the relationship. These findings suggest the possibility of informed, non-problematic adult use of MDMA for cognitive and relational enhancement.
“Within the modern resurgence of psychedelics as medicinal agents for a range of conditions, the story of MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly) has been re-narrated from a dangerous street drug to a breakthrough mental health therapy. Even still, the story of MDMA remains incomplete within a binary discourse of deviant recreational use versus psychotherapeutic-medical use. The present research aimed to uncover an emerging model of MDMA use grounded in the experiences of adult couples using MDMA privately and in the context of their committed relationships. Eight adult couples who self-reported active MDMA use were recruited for confidential in-depth interviews exploring questions related to drug, set, and setting as a general framework for understanding their private experiences with MDMA. A general inductive coding process was used to arrive at four overarching themes: Conscious Use, A Tool for Exploring, Planned Recovery, and Difficult Experiences. Couples reported making purposeful decisions about MDMA use, collaborating together on becoming physically and emotionally “set” for their drug experience. Couples described positive effects on communication, intimate bonding, and providing a relationship “tune-up,” among other durable changes to the relationship. An emerging cognitive-relational model of “evenings with Molly” contrasts with existing models of use by suggesting the possibility of informed, non-problematic adult use of the drug for cognitive and relational enhancement. With a small, homogenous sample reporting generally positive experiences with MDMA self-administration, findings from this study cannot be generalized. It remains unknown what proportion of the total MDMA user population might align with the non-problematic adult use of MDMA explored in this study. Additional focused investigations might examine the prevalence and varieties of non-clinical use among adults in order to arrive at rational, science-based regulatory frameworks.”
Authors: Robert Colbert & Shannon Hughes
Eight adult couples who self-reported active MDMA use were interviewed to explore the experiences of using MDMA privately and in the context of their committed relationships. They reported positive effects on communication, intimate bonding, and providing a relationship ”tune up” among other durable changes to the relationship.
This study cannot generalize to the total MDMA user population. Additional focused investigations are needed to arrive at rational regulatory frameworks.
Since its growing appearance in the late 1970s, MDMA has been narrated by political, social and medical debates built on conflicting assumptions about its properties and appropriate uses. This study explored the stories of adult couples using MDMA privately and in the context of their committed relationships.
Three primary typologies of MDMA use are documented in the literature, each accompanied by a set of assumptions about the drug and its context of use. The psychotherapeutic-medical model positions MDMA users as patients receiving treatment and seeking healing. A small literature base weaves in another model of recreational use of MDMA, which is constructed with clinical components and non-clinical self-exploration.
Some psychotherapists and physicians used MDMA to enhance positive feelings, empathy, and interpersonal connectedness in the 1970s. Couples in committed relationships used MDMA in their private home settings to enhance their connections and intimacy, and perceived impacts of MDMA use on their relationship.
Since MDMA’s prohibition in 1985, few studies have examined the drug’s potential benefits among recreational users in non-clinical contexts or subjective experiences reported on relationships. These studies rely on participant sampling from informants at public recreational venues or through extended social networks of people using MDMA. The present study explored the experiences of adult couples who use MDMA privately in their own home, without relying on a priori assumptions based on existing models of use.
Participants were adult couples who reported being in a committed relationship and actively using MDMA together in private spaces. They were recruited from high-traffic locations in a populated corridor of a large western state using a combination of convenience sampling and respondent driven snowball sampling.
Interested couples were screened over the phone for inclusion and reviewed informed consent. A semi-structured interview guide was developed to collect information about participants’ experiences with MDMA and their drug history.
Participants were asked open-ended descriptive questions about their drug experience, including their perceptions of the benefits and harms of MDMA and their use of other substances to enhance or modify their MDMA experience. Couples were asked about how they mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for and experience taking MDMA together, how they prepare the physical space and environment for taking MDMA together, and the impact of their MDMA experiences on their relationship to each other and relationships with friends and family.
All couples were interviewed, and an online discussion forum was opened for 45 days. Participants could discuss emergent themes anonymously with other participants and give final feedback to the investigator.
The investigator conducted initial interviews with participants, transcribed the interviews verbatim, and uploaded the transcripts into NVivo 11 software for coding and analysis. Themes were identified through an iterative process of open and focused coding, with a fourth category, Difficult Experiences, added by the investigator.
Relationship and Drug History
Participants ranged from 27 to 38 years of age, represented a range of education and income levels, and reported using cannabis frequently or daily. Six of eight couples reported exploring other psychedelics together in their current relationship.
In this study, individuals who used drugs reported self-acceptance for their use. Most participants never regretted their drug use, with the exception of Cisca, who sometimes questioned her use.
Couples’ MDMA Use
All eight couples reported that MDMA was a therapeutic substance, providing a means of immediate intimacy, opening to new possibilities, and facilitating open communication. Couples referred to MDMA as a medicine with therapeutic or healing properties, and several liked the name Ecstasy. They reported a ”childlike state” that was full of energy and a ”ground of love” when they first used MDMA together.
Couples reported using MDMA once every 3 – 6 months, and three reported using the substance several times within 1 – 2 months. They negotiated dose amount together and procured only small amounts of Molly so that they could resist the temptation to ingest more than the desired amount.
Christine and Travis used MDMA to facilitate more intimate connection between themselves and their partner, and to enhance their relationship with family, community, the world, and even higher dimensions.
Couples suggested that preparing physically and mentally and communicating about taking substances together created positive outcomes. Some couples spoke of personal intention as an important aspect of their use together.
Couples discussed their intentions before taking MDMA, evaluated the environment and conditions they planned to encounter while on Molly, and made plans for the night. They also prepared physically, eating healthy balanced diets, staying hydrated, moderating the intake of other substances, and exercising.
Couples reported using vitamins and minerals before and/or after taking Molly, and reducing intake of other substances such as alcohol and prescription medications.
While under the influence of MDMA, couples described setting up spaces that provided intimate privacy, different textures, mellow lighting, and comfort. They also described changing setting and environment while on Molly as a way to manage the intensity of the experience and to change the mood intentionally.
A Tool for Exploring
Participants reported that being on Molly allowed them to explore their bodies and their relationships with others. They also reported a positive social affect immediately following an evening with Molly.
Couples generally made a distinction between drug use for ”escaping” and drug use for ”discovering” or ”exploring”. Alison explained how MDMA helps her and her partner Ben ”break down a lot of your walls that you probably put up” and that the emotions they shared on MDMA were their true selves.
The MDMA experience was described as opening access to a more sensitive registry of emotions, thoughts, and feelings. For some participants, this emotional sensitivity was a beneficial part of the MDMA experience, while for others it was more about celebrating life and intimate bonding.
MDMA was a prominent theme for couples, including the process of communication in preparing for a MDMA experience and the outcome of improved communication in their relationship. Couples described exploring communication in new ways through words, touch, play, and empathy.
MDMA has allowed Cisca and James to enter a space that they can’t really explain to somebody else, and has brought them closer together as well.
MDMA was reported to improve relationships in many ways, including enhanced communication, intimate bonding, and celebration. Some couples reported taking MDMA together with their family, including their siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, and on more than one occasion a grandparent joined them for the experience.
Couples intentionally made time and space to recuperate together, taking care of physical needs, getting rest, and supporting each other. They emphasized the importance of the planned recovery period, and described it as an extension of their MDMA experience into subsequent days for the couple to reflect upon their experience together.
Couples practiced returning to the state of being on MDMA while in their planned recovery period, and this was perceived as a way to extend the positive effects after taking Molly together.
It’s not like I do MDMA and all of a sudden I’m feeling safe, but my body knows a little bit more.
Couples have attributed the positive effects of taking MDMA together to a fresh space to operate from and the ability to see their partner in a new way.
Eight couples reported that they do not consider MDMA dangerous, but do consider other substances to be harmful. Alcohol, cocaine, antidepressants, NSAIDs, and even sugar were cited as being more harmful than MDMA.
Couples most often named dehydration as the risk they contemplated prior to their use of MDMA, though none reported considering an overdose on Molly as a possible risk. Communication about dosing and polydrug use was reportedly essential to maximize hoped-for benefits.
No couples reported ever having a medical emergency that required outside intervention, and sarcasm occasionally marked the tone of responses to questions of potential harm or emergency.
Couples were able to push through any undesirable physical effects of MDMA to enjoy the experience with their partner, and were also able to work through difficult emotional moments while on MDMA.
Adult couples report positive effects of self-managed recreational use of MDMA in the privacy of their own homes, and view MDMA as enriching their lives. Couples made conscious decisions beforehand that oriented toward positive outcomes, and reported being able to manage any difficult experiences that might be encountered while on MDMA.
Couples’ reported use of MDMA in this study differed from existing models of use, with some even borrowing directly from clinical research protocols. They reportedly used the drug to improve their relationships, and distance themselves from a stigmatized deviant model of use. Although the deviant/ recreational model assumes that drug use is escapist, irresponsible, or otherwise dysfunctional, recreational users in this study did not believe that their use aligned with those common assumptions.
Participants in this study used MDMA together as a tool to catalyze empathic connection, and reported relational tools for communication that came from taking Molly, which they anchored back to and practiced together in their sober lives post-experience. Couples’ descriptions of MDMA use align more with the field of nootropics, where drugs are used to improve cognitive functions. Couples may be using MDMA in a similar way to nootropics, to promote sustained changes to behavior and relational improvement beyond current capacities.
The study was conducted on couples from four different states. The participants were mostly middle class White professionals who reported frequent present day cannabis use and historical use of MDMA. It remains unclear what proportion of MDMA users align with the informed and nonproblematic adult use of MDMA explored in the present study. Couples’ reported experiences with MDMA take place in the context of unknown quality of the substance, unknown or variable dosing, and possible polysubstance use.
This investigation examined the first-hand experiences of adult couples using MDMA in private venues and contrasted them with the myriad existing assumptions surrounding how drug use is narrated inside and outside of the clinic.
The current investigation suggests that a more expansive cognitive-relational view of ”evenings with Molly” might be warranted, and that a more rational, science-based regulatory framework for MDMA could be arrived at by examining the prevalence and varieties of such use among adults.