Antisemitism, dubbed “the longest hatred,” has seemed impervious to challenge. It is a social problem that shifts to meet demand, allowing perpetrators to tailor it to fit their “need.” What if there were a pill you could prescribe to “cure” a person of antisemitism? There may be.
It seems almost like an April Fool’s joke or a Purim spoof, but the timing isn’t quite right. Rob Eshman, senior contributing editor to the Forward, published a piece last weekend suggesting there may indeed be a pharmaceutical answer to this age-old problem.
MDMA, the understandably needed short form for the drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine – aka “Ecstasy” or “Molly” – has been popular for some time, primarily with people who enjoy what the U.S. National Institutes of Health calls its effects of “sympathomimetic arousal, sensual enhancement, feelings of euphoria, and emotional closeness to others.”
Like most good things, of course, this drug comes with a wide range of unwelcome side effects. But the trade-offs have been deemed worthy enough that the drug has been used in Israel since 2019 to combat post-traumatic stress disorder, Eshman writes, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve it for some uses in the next couple of years.
Israel’s use of MDMA for PTSD is far from the only Jewish connection the author found. The drug was first synthesized more than a century ago by Alexander Shulgin, a California pharmacologist whose Jewish family fled Russia, and who has been called “the zeyde of psychedelics.”
Last month, science journalist Rachel Nuwer (also Jewish) published the book I Feel Love: MDMA and the Search for Connection in a Fractured World, in which she shares the story of a white supremacist who was integral to the 2017 hate rally in Charlottesville, Va. After treatment with MDMA, the individual renounced his racist orientation and declared “Love is the most important thing.”
If there is a chance that an ingestible element (currently a banned substance in Canada, the United States and most places) could address a major scourge of civilization – not just antisemitism but all forms of hatred – do we not owe it to ourselves to allocate resources to investigating the pros (and cons)?
A variety of research is ongoing, of course, including an annual Jewish Psychedelic Summit, where medical, religious, psychology and other experts discuss psychedelics and Judaism. (It’s a virtual affair, so one can only imagine the hospitality suites if it were in-person.)
The application of plant medicines and synthetic drugs to combat what we generally deem a social problem may seem dubious – and researchers say it probably wouldn’t work if the recipient isn’t predisposed to change. However, the idea may not be as outrageous as it sounds. We recently ran an article about the late psychotherapist Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin, whose landmark 1990 book Anti-Semitism: A Disease of the Mindposited that bias against Jews could in many instances be considered a mental disorder. We have long accepted, welcomed even, pharmaceutical responses to treatable mental issues. Why not this one?
Of course, anything that changes brain chemistry or neurobiology should be approached with immense care – more care, for example, than we have demonstrated in wildly embracing over the past several decades the new technologies that have been shown to shorten our attention spans and alter the functioning of our brains, as we discussed in this space last issue.
At the same time, we would be foolish to ignore the potential for something that could ameliorate some of the worst characteristics of the human experience. Think back at the horrors that might have been alleviated had we been able to slip a “love potion” into the water glasses of history’s most evil figures.
Some experts, Eshman explains, are looking into the role MDMA could play in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While we work on other avenues for the changes needed to bring more love and justice to the challenges inherent in that conflict, if there is a glimmer of hope that a chemical solution exists for some of the most destructive features of our species, we would be fools to dismiss it.