Could a Form of Ecstasy Fight Cancer?

New research suggests that a modified form of MDMA — more commonly known as the illegal drug ecstasy — could kill some types of blood cancer cells.

Prozac and similar antidepressants may also possess similar anti-cancer potential.

It has been known that ecstasy and other psychoactive drugs can attack cancer cells, but the problem with using a drug like MDMA to fight cancer is that the dose would have to be so large, it would kill the patient.

“That’s obviously not a very good treatment,” says John Gordon, a professor of cellular immunology at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., explaining that knowing the toxic dose gave his team a place to start when “redesigning the designer drug.”

Gordon and colleagues have developed analogues of MDMA — one that’s 100 times more powerful against lymphoma cells than MDMA and another that’s 1,000 times stronger. The experimental compounds are designed to reduce toxicity to brain cells — and possibly, therefore, the high — while increasing effectiveness against cancer cells.

The researchers say that in lab tests, the chemically engineered compounds were attracted to the fats in the cell walls of blood-cancer cells, including leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. That made it easier for the compounds to get into cancer cells and kill them.

It was Gordon’s team that initially discovered the cancer-fighting properties of MDMA several years ago. “It started with the discovery that lymphoma cells express targets for neurotransmitters,” says Gordon.

“We made a surprising discovery that they express the serotonin transporter and later found that they express the dopamine transporter,” he says, referring to the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, that are typically found in the brain and play a role in mood and movement disorders. Both MDMA and antidepressant drugs like Prozac affect these neurotransmitters, though in different ways.

– Read the entire article at Time Magazine.