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Evenings with Molly: Adult Couples’ Use of MDMA for Relationship Enhancement

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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.

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Authors and Affiliations



RC contributed to the study conception, design, methodology, and formal analysis and investigation. SH contributed to data analysis, writing the original draft preparation, review, and editing. Both authors commented on prior versions of the manuscripts and have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shannon Hughes.

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The authors have no financial or employment conflicts of interest to declare.

Non-financial Interests

Authors RC and SH are founding members of the Psychedelic Research and Training Institute and Board Members of The Nowak Society. They receive no compensation as members of the board of directors. Author RC has received compensation from the Psychedelic Research and Training Institute for delivering trainings. Authors RC and SH have developed educational content on psychedelic therapy for the Colorado Counseling Association, for which they have received compensation.

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This study was performed in line with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval was granted by the Ethics Committee of the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Colbert, R., Hughes, S. Evenings with Molly: Adult Couples’ Use of MDMA for Relationship Enhancement. Cult Med Psychiatry 47, 252–270 (2023).

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