We've all heard the stories about psychedelic drugs coming into vogue for therapeutic purposes; we wrote about it here just recently. But we never expected that what was once considered a dangerous party drug might turn someone's life around from a path of hateful racism.
That's the surprising idea behind a recent BBC story about an MDMA trial that affected a white nationalist's entire outlook. MDMA (also known as Molly or Ecstasy) was used in a 2020 experiment at the University of Chicago that was focused on social touch. The researcher behind the study, Harriet de Wit, was informed one day that one of the participants had had an unusual experience and had signed a questionnaire form with the cryptic, "Google my name. I now know what I need to do."
Rather than a threat of violence, it turned out that the person in the study had a very different new goal in mind. The man, referred to as Brendan in the article, had been a leader of a white nationalist group; his identity had been exposed and he'd lost his job. But now, he was determined to spread love instead of hate. Somehow, the MDMA changed his outlook.
Before you begin secretly dosing your racist high school colleagues in hopes they'll finally see the light, it seems the seeds for this transformation may have already been in Brendan's mind; the MDMA just may have pushed him over to abandon the hate more readily. As the author of the piece, Rachel Newer, writes, "Could MDMA transform people's beliefs too? MDMA does not seem to be able to magically rid people of prejudice, bigotry, or hate on its own. But some researchers have begun to wonder if it could be an effective tool for pushing people who are already somehow primed to reconsider their ideology toward a new way of seeing things."
Newer wrote an entire book about MDMA and its ability to create human connection. She met Brendan and described his experience; the man said 30 minutes after taking an MDMA pill, he began to question his prejudices and feel happiness and connection. "It was so profound," he told the author, "I realized I'd been fixated on stuff that doesn't really matter, and is just so messed up, and that I'd been totally missing the point."
Again, we're not saying you should dose up your enemies with MDMA, but it's definitely food for thought. Maybe the neural pathways that create racist and hateful thoughts aren't so firmly established that a good dose of the right drug couldn't start to set things toward a more peaceful path.