The MDMA 3 Month Rule
Am I doing damage by rolling too often? What damage? Is the 3 month rule real? How often should I wait?
Anecdotal reports suggest that rolling more often can lead to a loss of the “magic” — where much of the positive effects are lost. There are also good reasons to wait between rolls: see this post by MDMA researcher Matthew Baggott.
Two people I talked with who lost the “magic” found that after losing the magic, even waiting ~10 years was only enough to get them one more decent roll before MDMA returned to “magic-less” again.
Avoid increasing dosage to make up for weaker effects
Anecdotally, people who use MDMA frequently seem to use high dosages. In the same way that alcohol harm is proportional to dosage, any MDMA neurotoxicity concerns are proportional to dosage.
Studies in primates suggest that repeated (inappropriately) high MDMA dosages can induce neurotoxicity, though MAPS believes that the 80 mg and 120 mg doses used in research are likely safe and effective.
To reduce any neurotoxicity risk, stick to dosages that are as low as possible, ideally between 80 and 120 mg.
Consider taking supplements, as there’s some evidence that certain supplements can reduce MDMA tolerance and that “neuroprotective measures (limiting dose amount and pre-loading with supplements) may prevent or reduce the risk of”losing the magic”.”
Why is waiting between MDMA sessions advisable
See the bottom of this post by MDMA researcher Matthew Baggott.
Potential damage of heavy use
"In a study designed to minimize limitations found in many prior investigations, we failed to demonstrate marked residual cognitive effects in ecstasy users. This finding contrasts with many previous findings—including our own—and emphasizes the need for continued caution in interpreting field studies of cognitive function in illicit ecstasy users."
Though we're not really sure.
Origin of the 3 month rule
The origin of the three month rule is a quote from Ann Shulgin, widow of chemist Alexander Shulgin: “Now I would advise anyone who wants to use MDMA not to take it more than 4 times a year if you want to continue to get the best effects from it, otherwise you risk losing its effects entirely and permanently.”
Research on optimal MDMA break length
There isn’t really any high-quality research to tell us what we should do. This paper and this paper show brain changes that lasted ~3 weeks after use, but we don’t know if those changes are relevant to harm reduction.
The medical research group MAPS uses two or three MDMA doses, spaced 3 - 5 weeks apart. A minimum break is then perhaps 3-5 weeks if you’re taking less than or equal to 120 mg and with no more than 3 sessions — it may be smart to increase the delay if you plan on more than 3 sessions in your life, but we don’t really know.
As Matthew Baggot wrote, "In ten years from now, MDMA may be legally available and used in therapy. You don’t want to be unable to save your marriage or fail to come to terms with trauma because you rolled too much in your youth and now can’t feel MDMA."
The origin of the "three month rule"
The only thing that has happened with everyone I know who has used MDMA a great deal is that if they used it more than 4 times a year, they developed a tolerance, and after a few years, it begins to not work for them. They want to get back the magic of the first experience, and that is a mistake, because - as Sasha likes to say -- "You never step into the same river water twice. " I found out, for myself, that using MDMA more often than four times a year was not wise. I used MDMA as a writing drug for about a year. Once a week, I would do a great deal of writing using MDMA; it was a wonderful experience for me to use it that way, but I discovered after that kind of use that I had to go up in dosage to get an effect, and the effect became less and less the magical insight; it was more and more the stimulant effects, and for many years now, I have been totally unable to use it. Not only because now it is illegal, but because I used it once a week, and that was too often. Nobody knew that, then, but now I would advise anyone who wants to use MDMA not to take it more than 4 times a year if you want to continue to get the best effects from it, otherwise you risk losing its effects entirely and permanently.
Science and research supporting MDMA breaks
“However, within 3 weeks after MDMA administration, rCBF remained decreased in the visual cortex, the caudate, the superior parietal and dorsolateral frontal regions compared to baseline rCBF. The decreased rCBF tended to be more pronounced in subjects who received the higher dosage of MDMA. Two subjects who were scanned at 2 3 months after MDMA administration showed increased rather than decreased rCBF.” “Our study also found that regional hypoperfusion may be observed for 2 3 weeks after administration of MDMA, especially with the higher dosages.”
“Twenty-one days after administration of MDMA however, the number of binding sites for [125I]MIL was back to control levels.”
“Also, the ex-MDMA users were studied after a relatively long MDMA-free period (on average 18 weeks) compared with the MDMA-treated rats (after 30 days).” “A significant positive correlation was observed between cortical 5-HT2A receptor binding (mean binding ratios of the three brain regions studied) and duration of abstinence from MDMA (0.57, p .01) but not between extent of previous MDMA (0.10, p .66).”
Matthew Baggott's comments
Baggott in 2015: “Much of the advice available online comes from people with only a few years of experience with MDMA. Studies of MDMA users suggest that many people use MDMA heavily for a few years, find that the positives decrease and the negatives increase, and then quit. People with this common experience are probably less likely to be giving advice on reddit, so it can be hard to appreciate how common it is to burn out on MDMA.
Many of the experienced psychonauts who were using pure MDMA in the 1970s —people like Ann Shulgin and Debby Harlow— noticed diminishing returns from MDMA. Ann Shulgin used MDMA weekly to overcome writer’s block and found it stopped working for her. Based on that and observations of other people, Ann suggested people use MDMA no more than 4 times per year. Debby Harlow noticed that many people seemed to get only about 10 special rolls and after that the experience was merely pleasant, but not magic. These numbers may not be exactly correct for everyone, but the general experience is common: most people eventually lose the magic of MDMA with repeated, frequent use.
So my advice is treat it like you won’t always have it. Try to learn from the experience and grow your skills at recreating without drugs some of the freedoms MDMA offers. Taking MDMA before going out is not a sustainable way to deal with social anxiety. In the long run you’re much better off working to achieve personal growth.
And consider saving some of the drug’s magic for later in life. In ten years from now, MDMA may be legally available and used in therapy. You don’t want to be unable to save your marriage or fail to come to terms with trauma because you rolled too much in your youth and now can’t feel MDMA."
Baggott in 2015: “Beyond the anecdotal observations that higher frequency leads to loss of magic, no one really knows. All the theories about replenishing serotonin are untested ideas. It is not even known if loss of magic is associated with depleted serotonin or with brain damage or with some other mechanism like simple learning.”