What is the Best Drug?

To accompany our recent series, “Owner’s Manual to the Human Brain,” Chris wrote an experience about his favorite drug and what it taught him about freedom and happiness. Arielle and Kurt also posted articles to accompany this series.

Out of all the drugs, I can’t tell you which is objectively the best, nor is it fruitful even to attempt to answer such a question. What I *can* tell you is which drug is my favorite. That drug is MDMA.

The first time I did MDMA, it changed my life forever.

I was about 19 years old. I’d gone to a rave where someone had sold me “ecstasy”. I’d been waiting almost 2 hours for it to “kick in”, much longer than everyone had told me it would take. I began to experience a sinking feeling, thinking that perhaps I’d been sold a dud. Suddenly, the room changed. Lights and colors became brighter, the music became louder and clearer, the air became like a pleasant, cool breeze brushing the hairs on my arms, and everything I paid attention to filled me with joy.

After only a moment in this new state, I started to feel as though an immense weight had been lifted off my mind. Instead of worrying about what other people might think of me and all of the ways that I could potentially make a fool of myself, I started to simply explore and experiment, testing the limits of acceptability. I tried dancing wildly to the beat and making crazy faces at passersby. I approached the most responsive of these people and started silly conversations. I soon realized that people were delighted by my goofy antics, rather than repulsed as I’d anticipated in my mind. I realized that I’d set up very restrictive artificial boundaries on my own behavior, and that when I broke through these boundaries, I was delighted and amazed that everyone else seemed equally delighted and amazed.

One of the first thoughts to cross my mind after the MDMA kicked in was, “ohh, I see why this is illegal.” My very next thought was, “wait, what a crazy thing to think!” I’d somehow been programmed to think that too much happiness and enjoyment were inherently bad or dangerous. Once I started experimenting to see what felt good (everything felt good), I realized that I’d never allowed myself to do this… just explore my environment, flowing here and there as I pleased. I was utterly free for the first time in my life. The lifelong prison I’d been trapped in until that moment had been constructed and maintained entirely within my own imagination. Once I imagined that the prison was not there, it simply ceased to matter.

This experience had a number of profound effects on my personality and philosophy. 

First, I realized that freedom is mostly a construct of one’s mind. As soon as I began to ignore the arbitrary restraints I’d imagined for myself, the more I was able to freely express my identity, and I started to get to know myself. Before MDMA, it’s as if I hadn’t noticed that I was a unique individual, with my own tastes and style. As a defense mechanism, I’d actively avoided expressing preferences for this thing over that, because I’d noticed that such things could be made fun of and used against me.

Second, I realized that the government and society and I’d grown up around were actively promoting these imaginary prisons inside *everyone’s* minds; not just my own. Before my MDMA experience, I’d assumed that these prisons were beneficial to society because they helped avoid danger. I now realized that avoidance of danger should not be the only consideration. I’d “seen the light”, and I decided to help others do the same.

Third, I realized the extent of the human brain’s capacity to feel good. I had assumed that the point of life was to avoid mistakes and pain. I hadn’t even considered that pursuit of greater states of happiness might be a better strategy than avoidance of pain, because I assumed that I’d already experienced the maximum possible pleasure. My MDMA experience was so far beyond this previously-assumed limit that I had to reconfigure my entire model of happiness, such that my previous notion of the maximum was now somewhere near the middle, right in the vicinity of “meh”. I now had a whole universe of pleasurable experiences to explore, and (given some luck) decades in which to find them.

While like any drug, MDMA of course has its downsides (addiction, toxicity, etc), I believe that with the proper information, set, and setting, any individual can massively benefit from a single MDMA experience, with the risk of negative long-term effects being essentially zero. I’ve known so many people who have had similar experiences to mine, and so few people who have had negative experiences, that to this day I find it hard not to extol the virtues of this wonderful substance.