Anthony D’Onofrio didn’t always give free hugs. In fact, before his first experience with MDMA, he describes himself as depressed. He didn’t expect much of life, then, he said.
That changed when he was 16 years old, and took about half a pill of MDMA at a rave.
“I had this sensation like all the love in the entire universe was flooding into my body,” said D’Onofrio in a video interview. “And it was unlike anything I had ever felt before.”
D’Onofrio, now 30 years old, has taken MDMA about 25 times since that rave. He was interviewed about his experiences for MDMA: The Movie, an upcoming documentary produced by Emanuel Sferios. According to Sferios, founder of the harm reduction organization DanceSafe, the film takes a comprehensive look at “MDMA’s use both therapeutically and recreationally.”
The film also advocates for harm reduction rather than drug prohibition. The premise of harm reduction is simple: rather than criminalizing drugs like MDMA, help people use them in the safest, healthiest way.
According to harm reduction philosophy, designating MDMA as an illegal social taboo keeps people in the dark about it, and creates situations where unexperienced drug users can potentially overdose or ingest mystery — and sometimes fatal — additives. Harm reduction, on the other hand, would provide realistic drug education, teach people how to check their own drugs for dangerous mystery ingredients, provide drug testing, and designate safe spaces at raves and festivals for people undergoing difficult drug experiences.
MDMA commonly induces feelings of intense love, happiness and empathy in users. Doctors attribute these feelings to a rapid release of serotonin and dopamine from nerve endings in the brain. For D’Onofrio, this was a life-changing experience. Before taking MDMA, D’Onofrio describes himself as a bleak teenage boy whose highest expectations were to get a job and maybe find someone to love him. He said he felt like he lived in a little box.
“I felt that was kind of the lot that we had, and it seemed very sad,” he said. “Then I took this chemical, and all of a sudden I had this epiphany that love was inside of me. It was happening inside of me. It wasn’t over there, it wasn’t in someone else, it wasn’t something that someone could give me. It just was flooding my body. And it changed my perception of reality forever.”
In the following years, D’Onofrio started an organization called Peace.Love.Human. The group had one mission: to make people feel happy. They did this with Smile Church, a weekly gathering with the goal of making others smile.
At the first meeting, D’Onofrio and three of his friends stood on the street and offered free hugs and popsicles. At the second, 25 people showed up. At the third, 35 people showed up.
“We would have a group of 30 or 35 people every week for months,” D’Onofrio said. “We would all have these tee-shirts that said, you know, ‘Be Love,’ just anything positive, and signs that said things like, ‘You are amazing,’ ‘You are beautiful,’ you know, ‘Nothing for Sale.’ And we would go out, and we would put up the signs and we would give people hugs and we would give them popsicles and say, ‘You’re beautiful,’ and try and make peoples’ days a little bit better, and get them to smile.”
D’Onofrio said he had his best experience with MDMA a few years ago. The night started with a houseless veteran reading poetry to D’Onofrio and a friend, who were sitting outside. Moved, the two friends gave the man all the money from their pockets. D’Onofrio took it a step further — he emptied almost all the money from his bank account and used it to help other houseless people he met on the street.
“MDMA showed me my potential,” he said. “What I could feel, who I could be, the way that I could relate to other people, the way that I could feel about them and about myself, the way I could face my own fear, and the way I could face their fears. And how you can, through love, find the strength to bear your weight and theirs.”
The documentary’s release date is set for summer 2016. Watch parts of D’Onofrio’s interview below.
Written by Monica Thunder
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