I recently interviewed Tucker Max on the ZenFounder podcast. Tucker is the co-founder of Scribe and author of four NY Times #1 bestsellers. He’s a pretty successful dude.  In part one of our conversation, Tucker talked about his attempts to find happiness by filling his life with fame, wealth, women, and partying. Surprise, surprise… it didn’t really work. Underneath his success and fame, he remained unhappy and empty. This unhappiness led him to therapy.  In the second half of our conversation, Tucker got specific about his journey into psychotherapy, and eventually his life-changing experience with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

What is MDMA-Assisted Therapy?

MDMA-Assisted Therapy may be new to you. If you haven’t heard about it, you likely will in the near future. It is a form of treatment that is showing tremendous potential to help people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (and likely other mental challenges).  It is currently in the third phase of the clinical trial process and will probably be approved by the FDA in the next few years.

MDMA is the chemical compound that is commonly known by its street drug versions: Ecstasy or Molly. MDMA combines the increased energy and pleasure of stimulants with the sensory activation and time distortion of hallucinogens. It’s important to note that MDMA purchased on the street usually contains other drugs, but pure MDMA, the type used for psychotherapy, has been shown to be very safe for human consumption.

MDMA-supported psychotherapy typically involves 3-5 MDMA sessions along with several preparation and debriefing sessions. The therapist or physician administers MDMA in their office and approximately 30 minutes after taking the MDMA, the effects of the drug will begin to be felt. Many people describe that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy allows them to relax enough to let difficult feelings come to the surface. Feelings that one might otherwise, consciously or unconsciously, push away.

The therapist sits with the client while they experience the effects of the drug. They help guide, comfort, calm- depending on what comes up during the session. The effects of MDMA start to wear off around the 4 hour mark, but much of the value of MDMA-assisted therapy is experienced in the days and weeks following the treatment. Many people report a change in the way that they view the events of their lives. They may also come to see the world differently. Clients reports that the experience of being on MDMA plants the seed for change, and much of the work is done once the drug wears off.

How MDMA-Assisted Therapy Might Help Heal Trauma

It is well-documented that the therapeutic alliance, the relationship between client and therapist, is the biggest predictor of success in psychotherapy. The experiences that lead to PTSD can make it particularly difficult for clients to trust and become comfortable enough with a therapist to achieve a positive therapeutic alliance. And this alliance is exactly what individuals with PTSD need to heal. Experienced clinicians suggest that MDMA is effective as a treatment for PTSD because the drug can ease some of the discomfort of trusting and create a sense of safety that facilitates vulnerability and healing.

Once under the influence of MDMA, many people experience the release of stored trauma as primarily emotional, physical, or both. Tucker shared that he experienced MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in an extremely physical way. His hips and legs were twitching violently–it was almost as if every time his brain had fired the flight response in his life, his body had stored it and it wasn’t until he was relaxed enough with the help of MDMA that he released all of that energy.

Even those who aren’t suffering from full-blown PTSD can benefit from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. There is pain that we all run from and we can’t make it go away without processing it. MDMA assists by turning off the part of your brain that says, “no, don’t go there”–and maybe going there is exactly what many of us need.

Why Entrepreneurs So Often Struggle with Their Mental Health

In my conversation with Tucker, he mentioned the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this short story by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, a self-absorbed emperor hires two weavers to make beautiful new clothes for him. The weavers convince the emperor that the fabric is invisible to anyone who is unfit for their position or “hopelessly stupid.” No one can see the clothes, but out of fear of being labeled stupid, no one says anything to the emperor and everyone pretends they can see his clothes. He was marching in front of everyone when a child yelled out that he wasn’t wearing any clothes, and quickly everyone agreed.

The Emperor’s New Clothes illustrates a key point that’s as relevant now as it was then–the mob mentality can quickly spread and it can just as quickly be abandoned. Either way, it’s hard to be the kid in the middle of the mob thinking, “wait, what?” and it’s a position many entrepreneurs find themselves in. Founders are the people out in front asking–why do we keep doing things this way? why don’t we change this? if there’s a problem, why don’t we fix it?–and it’s not always an easy place to be. This is one of the reasons why founders struggle with mental health. Asking questions, making changes, and pushing harder isn’t the easy way to make friends. Being a maverick can be very lonely. And loneliness is not good for mental health.

Final Thoughts

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is a relatively new treatment, but it’s gaining popularity and the FDA has funded research into its applications in treating PTSD. Improvements in treatment can be painfully slow at times, so the introduction of a promising new therapy could mean relief for millions of people suffering from PTSD. It will be interesting to see where MDMA-assisted psychotherapy takes us in the next 5-10 years.

I’m grateful to Tucker for his willingness to talk about his treatment experiences.