We all want the fairytale romance, but sometimes a marriage needs little extra spark—especially when one or both people are having a hard time communicating. Just think: last month, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck officially filed for divorce (devastating)—if this seemingly perfect couple couldn’t make their relationship work, what hope is there for the average pair of lovers? That’s why some therapists are advocating for the rescheduling or legalization of psychedelics, such as MDMA (aka ecstasy, aka Molly) and psilocybin (aka magic) mushrooms, to aid in couple’s therapy.
In a 2002 article for the research organization Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Annie Sprinkle—a former sex worker turned sexologist, artist, and educator— shares how psychedelics, ranging from LSD and peyote to mushrooms and ecstasy, had been her “greatest sex educator.” Among her varied experiences, she describes LSD making her feel like her “perceptions were heightened” and that she was “awed by life.” On ecstasy, Sprinkle writes, she “could feel a sense of empathy with my lover without doing anything,” and experienced her “body as a temple, and sex as a prayer.” While Special K made her “intensely aware of Self” (yes, with a capital S), mushrooms helped her find insights into her relationships. “There is a delicious unification with my partner—an openness and vulnerability,” she says.
The problem is that these substances are illegal in the U.S., even though there is a lot of scientific research that supports the benefits of using psychedelics in a controlled environment. Speaking specifically about MDMA and mushrooms, Dee Dee Goldpaugh, a psychotherapist in New York, says these are very safe medicines. Under the right circumstances, “they can actually do really amazing things for individuals and people in relationships,” she says.
In fact, MDMA was widely used by therapists until it was banned in 1985. When a person takes it, their brain releases large amounts of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and they feel a rush of positive emotions. Not only do they crave touch, but they also have increased feelings of empathy, Goldpaugh says. “It allows couples to communicate with each other, feel empathy for each other, and want to feel close to each other in ways that may be outside of how they were normally communicating in the relationship,” she says. “Really, in as little as one time using it, people can make really big breakthroughs in terms of how they communicate emotionally.”
Mushrooms impact the body differently, Goldpaugh says, though she’s not aware of as much clinical research supporting its use in couple’s therapy. “It’s most clinically effective form produces a mystical experience, which is characterized by feelings of oneness with the universe, feelings of interdependence, great meaning, communication with some kind of higher power,” she says. “It could be a very meaningful experience for two people to be sharing in that greater sense of unity together.”
Anyone could benefit from using psychedelics to reconnect with their partner—“We all have stuff we need to say to each other,” Goldpaugh says—but the relationships that would gain the most would be those in which one partner has suffered some kind of sexual abuse or trauma that resulted in PTSD. To that end, a recent study on MDMA use in treating PTSD patients found that two-thirds of participants no longer met the criteria for the disorder after three doses.
“When it’s done in a supervised, intentional way, it’s probably the most effective trauma treatment that we have,” Goldpaugh says. “That’s what I see in my practice the most: people coming in, really suffering because they want to connect with each other—they want to be intimate with each other—but one person has a history that emerges over the course of their relationship that really prevents them from having the kind of sex they want to have.”
But, again, she cautions against seeking out these illegal substances on the street, as oftentimes they’re laced with other chemicals that could be dangerous.
All hope is not lost, though. As far as legal alternatives go, Goldpaugh recommends couples seek out a holotropic breathwork workshop or engage in tantric sex therapies if they’re looking to alter their consciousness and invoke an emotional experience.