What are psychedelics?

Entheogens, or psychedelics, are part of a wider class of psychoactive drugs commonly known as hallucinogens, a class that also includes mechanistically unrelated substances such as dissociatives and deliriants. Entheogens means “god-within” or “spirit-facilitating,” and has been considered a more appropriate term to describe these substances by many scholars, who feel that the term “psychedelic” connotes negative “psychological and clinical paradigms that are socio-culturally loaded from its 1960s roots (Tupper 2002:500).” Many of these plants and substances have been used in traditional rituals across various cultures and religions throughout time. Entheogens include MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and more.

This toolkit is intended to serve as a preliminary guide for policy reform for the wide range of substances that are considered entheogens. Given the wide range of effects that each of these substances can have, the regulatory models for each of these substances will look very different. Below, we have used MDMA as an example to serve as a starting point. While some of the arguments for legalizing MDMA apply to other entheogens, keep in mind that not all of these arguments apply to all of these psychedelic drugs.


What is MDMA?

MDMA is one of the most popular recreational psychoactives, most commonly sold as “ecstasy” (usually tablets) or “molly” (usually crystals). It is known for its empathogenic, euphoric, and stimulant effects, and has also been used in psychotherapy.


Why legalize MDMA?

MDMA is medicine.

MDMA is currently being studied as a substance that can be used to assist with psychotherapy to help heal the psychological and emotional damage caused by sexual assault, war, violent crime, and other traumas. MDMA can be an especially useful substance as an adjunct to psychotherapy for PTSD, as it is known for increasing feelings of trust and compassion towards others. Preliminary studies conducted by MAPS have shown that MDMA, in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome PTSD, and possibly other disorders as well.

How does it work?

In MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, MDMA is only administered a few times, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are often taken daily for years, and sometimes forever. MDMA is not the same as “Ecstasy” or “molly.” Substances sold on the street under these names may contain MDMA, but frequently also contain unknown and/or dangerous adulterants. In laboratory studies, pure MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses.

When will it be legalized?

MAPS is undertaking a roughly $20 million plan to make MDMA into a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription medicine by 2021, and is currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. For-profit pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing MDMA into a medicine because the patent for MDMA has expired. The idea of using MDMA to assist psychotherapy of any kind for any specific clinical indication has long been in the public domain.



Legalizing MDMA would reduce harm.

Because MDMA is risky and expensive to make, much of what is being sold as MDMA are cheap, unregulated, synthetic substances. People are often taking substances that may be adulterated or may not be MDMA at all. Legalizing MDMA would help take steps towards ensuring a safer and higher quality experience.


A number of people have died from ingesting what they thought was MDMA, but which actually contained high concentrations of the dangerous drug PMMA. In 2013, the Electric Zoo music festival in NYC was canceled after four party-goers got sick, and two died, from tainted MDMA.

University of Virginia sophomore Mary ‘Shelley’ Goldsmith, 19, died in August 2013 at one of the largest dance clubs in Washington, leading her mother, Diane Goldsmith to launch the Amend the Rave Act Campaign.


Finally, ending the War on MDMA can help reduce the stigma of being a drug user caused by the War on Drugs.The war on drug stigmatizes the very people it is ostensibly trying to help by labeling them as criminals. As a result, Sferios says that young people “internalize guilt and shame… which leads directly to risky and self-destructive drug-taking behaviors.” “Instead of criminalizing drug users, we should be modeling responsible usage, like we do with alcohol. A culture that prioritizes safety and education over shame and scare tactics will create a healthier, more informed atmosphere that doesn’t induce the dangerous behavior it seeks to prevent.”


Prohibition simply doesn’t work.

30 years of MDMA prohibition has done nothing to quell the demand for MDMA. Pure MDMA is risky and expensive to make, so much of what is being sold as “Molly” are cheap, unregulated synthetic substances. Emanuel Sferios, founder of DanceSafe, believes that if done properly, decriminalizing and strictly regulating MDMA would “eliminate at least 80% of the illicit market.”


Legalizing MDMA can help us better understand the substance and the human mind.

Legalizing MDMA will help us learn more about the substance, and help remove some of the ethical issues that scientists often run into when conducting experiments on illegal substances.  The more we learn about MDMA, the more we’ll learn about happiness, the mind, and empathy. I think we could all do with a little more ecstasy in our lives, don’t you?

Sources: 5 Ways the Legalization of MDMA Will Change the World


For more resources on concerns/benefits of legalization, check these organizations out:


What would MDMA legalization look like?

This article on Alternet, Why (and How) We Should Legalize Psychedelics, provides a framework for psychedelic legalization very broadly. Some principles of legalization include:

  1. Minimum age: 18.
  2. Education: At least one coaching session from a trainer about the potential problems and opportunities connected with use, and what precautions are needed for different psychedelics so as to minimize the chance of bad trips. Training could be based on a standard instruction manual. The trainer, whoever it is, would sign an application for a license for the trainee.
  3. Licensing: Following training, licenses may be issued by specified federal, state or local agencies for the purchase of psychedelics. To qualify, applicants would have to pass an appropriate written exam proving they had learned the prerequisite knowledge about safe psychedelic use.
  4. Non sharing: Buyers may not legally share with anyone under age, or outside of consenting  licensed family or friends, nor may they resell what they buy to anyone.
  5. Violation of these rules will be a violation of law and carry legal penalties.
  6. Who may sell psychedelics? Perhaps pharmacies; just as they used to sell contraceptives. Buyers would have to show their licenses.


How to advocate for Psychedelic Legalization

This is a grassroots guide to educate your chapter, community and legislators about the importance and need for psychedelic policy reform. This is just a reference for your chapter – ultimately, you will have to decide what strategies work for your campus and community. Contact your Outreach Coordinator if you have any questions.

    1. Devote one chapter meeting to educate chapter members on MDMA.
      • Steps to a successful meeting:
        1. Conduct Research. What is MDMA?  What are its effects, both positive and negative? Why is it important to reform drug policy? What are the effects of current policies surrounding psychedelics, both positive and negative? Compile this into a presentation.
        2. Brainstorm. Allow enough time for chapter members to talk about the issue and decide what direction your chapter wants to go. Use this guide as a starting point. Remember, successful drug policy advocacy and reform should be designed to meet people where they’re at, and be tailored based on your campus and community’s interests. Consider forming a committee to spearhead efforts.


  • Resources.


  1. Understand the Media and Write a Letter To the Editor (LTE) about the importance of legalizing MDMA. One of the easiest ways to get press is to write a Letter To the Editor (LTE). The Media Awareness Project is a clearinghouse for LTEs about the Drug War, and has sections specifically for Ecstasy, Hallucinogens and Club Drugs. It is user-friendly, and offers tips on how to write a LTE.
    • Check out SSDP’s Amend the Rave Act LTE Template for a good first sample LTE related to psychedelic policy reform.
    • Tips to Getting Published:
      1. Make it Local. Relate it to an article recently published in the source.
      2. Find an Angle. Is your school thinking about implementing a new harm reduction policy or practice? Or, did you find some startling news through your research? Hook your readers.
      3. Make it Timely. News is now. Respond to a published article within a day or two.
      4. Follow Directions. Different newspapers have different deadlines and word requirements.
      5. Simple is Best. Make one argument. Third grade reading level is standard.
    • Use your Resources. Check out LTE Tips on our Resources page for a guide. Contact your Outreach Coordinator if you have any questions.
    • Spread the Word. When your LTE is published, be sure to post it to various Facebook groups, and let your Outreach Coordinator know!
    • Make media a cornerstone of your chapter’s actions. Think about it every time your chapter does anything. The Media Survival Guide, located in SSDP Chapter Start-up kits, breaks down different types of media tools. Contact your Outreach Coordinator for press lists and talking points.
    • Additional Resources:
      1. Tips to Writing a LTE
      2. More Tips
  2. Write to a congressman about psychedelic research, legalization, and/or education. Click here for an example written about marijuana.
  3. Invite a Psychedelic Expert to your campus. Build support and awareness of the issue by inviting a speaker to your campus.
    • Steps to a successful event:
      1. Find a Good Speaker. Good speakers convey enthusiasm, build a sense of community, and impart important information. As a general rule, don’t pay for an honorarium unless your student government funds it. Enough drug policy experts are stoked for the opportunity. Check out the Speaker Ideas at the bottom or ask for recommendations on SSDP Chapter Leaders. Your Outreach Coordinator can connect you to good speakers and help you book them.
      2. Book the event. Two or three people should organize the event. The core organizer should nail down a date that works for chapter members, the speaker, and the university. Check your school’s calendar to make sure your event won’t have to compete with the same audience. Allow at least one month to plan for the event.
    • Pack the House. Find a few professors or TAs to offer extra credit for students attending the event. Blast chapter lists, personal lists, and SSDP Chapter Leaders as well as the Regional Facebook groups (Heartland, Mountain, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, Pacific). Advertise in the school newspaper, flier, and chalk the sidewalks/classroom boards. Make announcements in related classes. Invite the student government, professors and key administrators.
    • Press. Designate one person as the media spokesperson, fax out a media advisory, and follow-up.
    • Advance Work. Call and confirm your invited speaker’s arrival time, equipment needs, and lodging. Arrive early at the airport to pick them up. Have a back-up plan: what will you do if the speaker is late? What if the room has no chairs?
    • Bang for your Buck. Collect name, email address and phone from attendees. Unless they opt-out, add them to your chapter list. Promote your organization before the event, table, and stick around for questions.
    • Follow-up. Be sure to send the speaker a thank-you note, and add attendees to your chapter list.
  4. Persuade Student Government and Faculty Government to Support Psychedelic Research. While the potential for national psychedelic policy reform may be distant, there are still incremental actions you can take on campus to raise awareness of the issue and get closer to garnering support for full psychedelic legalization. Resolutions can be a powerful way to exemplify student support for these initiatives to community members, media, and legislators, and can be helpful for when SSDP members meet with stakeholders.
    • How to Lobby your Student Government and Faculty Government:
      1. Find a Champion. Do your research, and find a student government representative that will help you pass the resolution. Contact the person and e-mail them the Legislative Paper and request a meeting.
      2. Know the Process. Ask your champion what you need to do to get the resolution passed. It will probably involve presenting your argument at a meeting and educating other members.
      3. Garner Media. This is a great time to write an opinion-editorial about why it is important for student government to pass a resolution in support of research on psychedelic substances. Positive press will help. Notify the press when you pass the resolution.
      4. Use your Resources. Keep the national office updated on your progress. Your Outreach Coordinator is here to help you with logistics, talking points and legislative questions.
  5. Lobby / work with University Administration to include psychedelics in school drug/alcohol education programs. Sometimes the best way to promote change is to start from the inside out.
    • Partner with your school’s health services program to include programs on MDMA, LSD, and more in the curriculum, or develop your own programs and invite health services to attend.


Substance Specific Information and Resources

General Resources