MDMA and Grief

G. Scott Graham
Journal of Psychedelic Support
13 min readJan 10, 2024



I have known about this drug for a long time in my career as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor. My interest over the years has been from the perspective of an addiction professional helping people to stop using MDMA. Health consequences, detoxification issues, and relapse triggers were the primary areas I was focused on.

It wasn’t until the Summer of 2023, as I was diligently preparing for my first intention-driven, therapeutic-oriented psychedelic experience, that I encountered literature on the ameliorative impact of MDMA on one’s mental health. Most of the literature focused on moderate to severe PTSD. There were some hypothetical considerations around anxiety and, to a lesser extent, depression. There were even articles exploring MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on alcohol use disorder.

I wondered if there was anything in the research about MDMA and grief. A quick Internet search showed only a few anecdotal articles, but they were enough to solidify my interest in exploring the interplay between MDMA and grief.

MDMA, Grief, and Introspection

Forty years ago, mental health professionals were using MDMA in therapy with the goal of increasing a client’s introspection. Therapists would act while a client was under the influence of the drug. They would guide the client to explore and examine painful emotions. It was clear that simply taking MDMA recreationally wouldn’t impact grief. Nor would I simply take the drug, focus on my intention, and then be “open” to the experience as I did with psychedelics. The potential of MDMA around what I would label as dark emotions like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and grief comes from the increased ability to open up about emotions that people have under the influence of the drug. That creates an environment to reflect on feelings of grief and loss.

It seemed reasonable that reflecting on feelings of grief and loss while under the influence of MDMA could provide a gateway to integrate grief.

MDMA, Grief, and Mettā

MDMA can facilitate pleasure sensations, shift the experience of time and pace, and create more energy. However, it is the increase in empathy that MDMA is known for that I was most keen on. Could the empathy produced by MDMA be similar to mettā? I have observed other people under the influence of MDMA, and my perception of them was that they were literally oozing mettā. I wrote about the impact of mettā on grief in my first book about loss, “Come as You Are: Meditation and Grief.” Mettā bhāvanā is a meditation practice. “Mettā bhāvanā” are Pali words. “Mettā” translates to “loving-kindness” or “goodwill.” “Bhāvanā” translates to “development.” “Mettā bhāvanā” literally means “developing loving-kindness.”

Mettā bhāvanā provides a gateway to integrate grief. I know that from direct experience from the practice.

It seemed reasonable that chemically produced mettā could also provide a gateway to integrate grief.

Intervention or Experiment?

Convinced that there was a potential for impact from a deep dive into my grief while under the influence of MDMA, I needed to figure out what the design should be. But first, I needed to figure out what exactly to call it. It is definitely not an “intervention,” a “passage,” or “mediation.” Heck, I don’t even like the phrase “therapeutic.” These all imply that there is something to be fixed. And I am definitely not broken.

“Experience” seemed too generic.

After some deliberation, little-Scott-riding-hood decided on the term “experiment” and will use that word from this point forward. One friend told me that the term “experiment” was too clinical, and I was pushing the experience away instead of embracing it. I am definitely not doing that. My intention is to approach my MDMA grief deep dive with a sense of curiosity and openness with as few expectations as possible. This approach has worked for me in my recent exploration of psychedelics and has proven quite valuable in my practice of vipassanā. This approach to an experience lays a foundation for equanimity. It predisposes one toward yathā-bhūta, a Sanskrit term that means “as it is” (versus as you would like it to be).

If you are interested in these concepts and their application to grief, you can learn more in my book, “Come as You Are: Meditation and Grief.”

DIY Designing the MDMA Grief Experiment

There were a number of issues I was facing in the design, planning, and conducting of my MDMA Grief Experiment.

I used the Psychedelic Preparedness Scale (PPS) to guide my preparation. Though not entirely applicable to MDMA, the four areas of the Psychedelic Preparedness Scale (PPS) provided a great framework for navigating my MDMA grief deep dive:

1. Knowledge-Expectations
2. Psychophysical-Readiness
3. Intention-Preparation
4. Support-Planning

First, MDMA is not legal even though the FDA has labeled MDMA’s effects on PTSD to be “beneficial,” and it will probably become legal for “therapeutic” use at some point in the future. Second, because street MDMA is produced god-knows-where, it can have a lot of other ingredients (e.g., methamphetamine, ketamine, ephedrine). This crap shoot of ingredients poses a certain risk. I was able to get my hands on 200mg of MDMA from a trusted friend, so while I do still have concerns about the ingredients, they are minimal.

Then there was the question of focus. We know that diligently preparing for a psychedelic experience (like psilocybin) and then just letting the experience (buffered by safety, of course) happen cradled by that intention can produce profound shifts in one’s schemas. MDMA is different. MDMA creates a self-aware, empathic disposition that allows one to open up so it is possible to work through traumatic events. That “working through” is prompted and guided by a therapist(s) who is present with the client while they are under the influence of MDMA. Just getting high with MDMA doesn’t work because you need that push to process painful emotions while feeling chemically induced joy and love. Luckily, Brian (my deceased husband) and I created the AI, Chat GPT, and Alexa of psychotherapists in 1998 and again in 2013 as part of our 10-year and 25-year anniversaries.

Time Capsules

The two time capsules

Being a gay couple in the United States (and a lot of other countries) has been (and still is) just shitty. The support, the celebration, the recognition of the relationship was missing and is still missing in many ways. No one talked about it. People still don’t talk about it. In 1998, Brian and I set out to create our own symbol, our own ceremony, our own process. This was a time in history when the societal validation of gay and lesbian relationships was at the forefront of political discussion. Brian and I were in Vermont, the birthplace of the first legally recognized gay and lesbian “marriages” (Vermont called them “civil unions”). So, doing something that engaged others to witness our ten years of monogamy made sense.

Brian and I decided to build a time capsule. I bought a time capsule “kit,” but we soon discovered that the shoe-box-sized container that came with the kit was too small. Like everything we did — and everything I continue to do — we go big, or we don’t go at all. Eventually, as we collected artifacts from 1998, we had to seal everything in a 5-gallon bucket from the home improvement store. We put in a box of silica gel to help preserve everything and sealed it, and I haven’t looked at it since (though I have thought about it a lot since Brian died in 2019).

Our strategy to involve others in our time capsule project (and hold our relationship out as worthy of societal validation) was to ask everyone who knew us to write a letter to our future selves. I got the idea of doing this from my work with Outward Bound and as a psychotherapist. Near the end of an Outward Bound course (or near the end of therapy), I would offer clients the opportunity to write a letter to their future self with encouragement, accountability, and reflections. They would put it in a self-addressed envelope and give it to me, and I would mail it to them at a later time — a year later — long after they had forgotten about it. Then, one day in the future, they would find this letter in an envelope addressed with familiar handwriting. A gift, an intervention, a prediction. It was powerful. (So powerful, in fact, that I decided to include the option to write a letter to one’s future self as part of the psychedelic integration process of my Psychedelic Integration Workbook).

People had the option of writing a letter to Brian’s future self, a letter to my future self, or a letter to our future selves as a couple. They could write one or all three. These were all added to our 5-gallon bucket of artifacts and sealed. Brian and I also wrote letters to our future selves, and to each other. I cannot remember if we wrote a letter to us as a couple or not. I can’t remember much about the time capsule other than it is a wealth of memories and deep emotions. You see, not only is there a letter from Brian somewhere in there (each letter is sealed and not labeled), but many of the letters in there are written by people in my life who are no longer alive: my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, Brian’s grandmother, Brian’s grandfather, and of course, Brian. Again, that is all I can recall. It is all a surprise.

We had so much fun putting together our 10-year time capsule that we decided to do it again for our 25th anniversary in 2013. Another 5-gallon bucket from the home improvement store, more artifacts, and more letters to the future were gathered. This second time capsule was not as heavily promoted by us as we were focused on a special 25th-anniversary trip to Disney World with my Mom. But I do recall a number of letters.

Brian Stephens, Emily Graham, and me at Disney World for our 25th Anniversary (2013)

Our plan was to open these at our 50-year anniversary to celebrate our life together.

Now, a little over four years since Brian’s death, my plan is to open these tomorrow after taking 200 mg of MDMA and with the presence of a friend who knew us both and probably wrote a letter or two himself.

Those 5-gallon buckets are overflowing with grief and loss. They are also overflowing with joy and love. Like two sides of a coin, grief and loss and joy and love go together. I have often thought about opening those buckets over the past few years. Just the thought of opening them, just the thought of what might be written in those letters, just the thought of actual artifacts from our life together cripples me with grief. I am sobbing as I write this at this moment.

That is how I know that the time capsules are the vehicle to push me to take a deep dive into grief and loss.

The time capsules are all the therapeutic guidance I need. In fact, putting on my psychotherapist hat, if I had a client who was looking for some way to tap into their feelings as part of an MDMA grief deep dive, I could think of nothing better than a time capsule. Unfortunately, you can’t create a time capsule in the present moment. Fortunately, we did create one in the past. Not just one, but two. One more powerful gift of support from a fulfilling, loving life with Brian Stephens.

MDMA Is Not A Solution For Grief

I know I have said this already. But it is so important that I must revisit it, lest someone think that I am wounded in some way and MDMA is going to cure me somehow.

It might. At some point in the future, we may point to MDMA as a “cure” for dark emotions. But that is not my purpose in using this drug.

I want to be clear on my intentions. Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is not a hurdle to be put behind us. Moving across the country, sanitizing your home of any signs of your loved one, or filling your life up with so much activity that you do not have time to feel emotions around your loss won’t “fix” your grief. There is nothing to be “fixed.”

My intention is fueled by curiosity and the knowledge that MDMA will create a disposition to embrace the grief and loss contained in those two 5-gallon buckets. An opportunity to integrate the losses I have had into my present moment. An opportunity to feel both sides of that coin simultaneously.

My MDMA Grief DIY Plan

Tomorrow, after my “trip sitter” witness arrives, I will consume 200 mg of MDMA, wait some time, and then crack open the time capsules. I am unsure which one I will crack open first, but I know I will go through all the artifacts and letters of one before moving on to the other. My plan is to read each of the letters out loud.

Yes, you read that correctly. I plan to read each letter out loud to my friend who is trip-sitting.

Then, a couple of days from now, I will write about my MDMA Grief Experiment and share my insights with the world. I intend to inform that writing by also taking the Psychological Insight Scale, the results of which I will also share.

MDMA Grief Experiment Logistics, Preparation, and Safety

All discussions of experiences like this should include thoughts about preparation, support, and safety.

I decided that I needed a trip sitter for this one. Someone who could keep me on track and focused on taking a grief deep dive, someone who would not seek to console me should profound negative emotions arise, someone who could keep me safe. I also wanted someone who knew both Brian and me. And they had to be open and supportive of my mission with this experiment. I identified four potential trip sitters and wrote them all the same email:

I am looking for someone to trip-sit me while I crack open and review the contents of the 2 huge time capsules that Brian and I created.
These time capsules are a lightning rod for my grief: not only about Brian but about my mother, my father, my brother, and my sister, who all participated in the creation of these 2 time capsules and are now dead. (I am crying as I compose this message to you just thinking about what may be in these time capsules).
While the time capsules are filled with artifacts that I’m sure will be triggering, the letters that are in those time capsules will be the most upsetting and provide the most opportunity to dive deep into grief and loss. To optimize the potential of the letters, I would like to read each letter out loud.
I plan to open the time capsules and use the contents to ignite feelings of grief and boss while under the influence of MDMA.
I want to do this during January 2024.
I need somebody who is not critical or judgemental about MDMA.
I also need somebody who isn’t afraid to see somebody experience and express dark emotions like sadness, grief, and loss. I need someone who won’t try to fix, shift, change, comfort, or in any way stifle my experience of grief. In fact, though I believe the contents of the 2 time capsules will be more than enough to prompt a deep dive into grief and loss, I need somebody tasked with keeping me on point with my intention. This can be achieved simply by asking questions about Brian, our life together, and my life without him should I start to focus on the weather, politics, work, etc.
Most importantly, I want somebody who not only knows me but also knew Brian. I want somebody who can be a witness to this process, this experience, this ceremony.
That’s a tall order. The person I need must be accepting and open. They must be comfortable with emotions, especially darker emotions. They must be brave.
I have identified several people who I think fit that criteria. And you are one of them.
I am in the process of reaching out to the people whom I think fit the bill and can be entrusted with this important and sacred task to see if they are available in January.
Please let me know ASAP so I can plan.
G. Scott Graham-Stephens
MDMA article from Los Angeles Times:
WebMD article about MDMA:
Anecdotal article about MDMA and grief:
YouTube about grief and MDMA:

Three responded. Of those three, one refused to be a part of this, claiming they were still dealing with their own “demons” around Brian’s death. The second offered to help but lived far away and couldn’t be present in the time frame I was hoping to complete the experiment. She brought more knowledge about MDMA in general and pushed me to anticipate and plan for a possible (though not probable) “Molly Comedown.” Our conversation prompted additional research on my part and resulted in 5-HTP, B-12, and C supplements yesterday and the day before. I also plan to take these same supplements for a week or two, starting 48 hours after my MDMA experience. (Here is a great resource for MDMA supplements:

MDMA Supplements

The third and I discussed my plan, research, and intentions. It was clear from our conversation that he had also done the research prompted by my request. He asked some tough questions. Once it was clear that this was not some poorly thought-out idea, he agreed to be my tripsitter. I am psyched to have him present for this experience. He is also an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician, so it will be great to have someone with that training hanging out with me should any physical problems arise.

To Be Continued…

This article is part of a series exploring the impact of MDMA on grief:
MDMA and Grief: Launch Day (Part 2)
MDMA and Grief: Debrief with the Trip Sitter (Part 3)
MDMA and Grief: Five Days Later (Part 4)
MDMA and Grief: Three Months Later (Part 5)
MDMA and Grief: Values (Part 6)



G. Scott Graham
Journal of Psychedelic Support

G. Scott Graham is an author, a career coach, a business coach, and a psychedelic support coach in Boston, Massachusetts. http://BostonBusiness.Coach