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.