Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Top Drug Advisor - Ecstasy is Safe as Riding a Horse

With the current hysteria over ecstasy in the MSM, it is refreshing to see some balanced opinion filter through. Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the UK has put some perspective on the much touted dangers of ecstasy(MDMA). It may seem hard to believe that the head of the UK’s peak body on illicit drugs has actually told the truth about ecstasy blowing apart the usual doomsday rhetoric.

Taking the drug ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse
-Professor David Nutt, chairman of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)
MDMA was first produced about 100 years ago but it wasn’t examined for it’s potential until the 1960s. It took another 10 years before it’s promising future was realised when a Californian psychotherapist postponed retirement to study it and started introducing it to therapists in Europe and America. In 1985, the DEA stepped in and banned it after it started making the rounds the dance club scene. Without any investigation into whether MDMA was being used for research, an emergency classification was made to have it classed as a Schedule 1 drug - the most restrictive category for drugs with “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use”.

benefits of MDMA for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been known since the 1970s but with the worldwide restrictions and patent issues, many projects don’t get past phase II trials. MDMA has also been shown to alleviate some side effects of Parkinson’s disease treatment but again restrictions have buried any future trials. Research does continue though albeit slowly.

With many positive results for treating PTSD, SA Democrat Sandra Kanck
suggested that MDMA could be beneficial for survivors of the Eyre Peninsula bush fires in 2006. She was ridiculed by the SA government, anti-drug groups and the media, then called into explain her actions to party leaders. Again in 2008, Sandra suggested a trial of MDMA for war veterans with PTSD after trials in the U.S. and Israel had shown "excellent results". What followed was a disgraceful and abominable response from several politicians. The execrable, SA Veterans Affairs minister, Michael Atkinson said the Government would "not be supporting Sandra Kanck's latest rave" and "Vietnam Veterans are not laboratory mice for a left-wing social experiment". Has drug hysteria reached the point where legitimate drugs are only accepted for treating the ill according to how politicians perceive them? So much for our so called advanced society.

What about recreational use? Why is MDMA in the same class as heroin? Are the risks of MDMA so bad that users should be hunted down as criminals? Why is so much effort put into catching occasional MDMA users? The argument about the dangers is no longer valid so maybe we should be questioning the motives of those who oppose MDMA so aggressively.

The long term effects of MDMA are still not fully known but there has been plenty of research suggesting there is nothing especially dangerous about it. The short term effects are a different matter. Although MDMA receives much bad publicity in the media and from anti-drug campaigns, the actual harms are generally small. Like any drug, heavy abuse of MDMA is not going to be good for you but in moderation there is very little evidence of any harm at all to the general population. A few years ago, The British Home Office, concluded that consuming MDMA is safer than travelling on commercial airliners. This probably explains why millions of people take MDMA every week without a problem.

According to a
study published in a medical journal, The Lancet, MDMA is not even in the top 10 most dangerous drugs. The study had addiction experts, psychiatrists, police and legal professionals with scientific or medical expertise assigned a rating to a list of 20 drugs. The three factors were:

⁃ Physical harm to the user

⁃ Addictive potential of the drug

⁃ The drug's overall impact on society

Ecstasy or MDMA was rated at number 18 out of 20.

Statistically, more people die from bee stings than MDMA use. The main cause of death associated with ecstasy use is from external factors like overheating and dehydration, contaminates/substituted chemicals and combining other drugs especially alcohol. MDMA in it’s pure form has very little danger if taken in moderation. Under prohibition, ecstasy is often cut or the MDMA is replaced with another drug in an effort to increase profits for illegal drug manufacturers and dealers. Without knowing what’s in the ecstasy pills, the potential harms increase significantly. This is the real danger of ecstasy use today - not MDMA but the lack of it.

SA Democrat, Sandra Kanck, again put her head on the chopping block and recommended pill testing at raves but she was heavily criticised by SA independent, Anne Bressington and other self righteous pollies. Some groups were already providing pill testing services at raves but were then threatened with legal action by police. The pragmatic approach of pill testing by medical professionals was rejected for “sending the wrong message” and these groups reluctantly resorted to providing cheap testing kits. Surprisingly, this was also condemned by the government but it was out of their hands legally. Unfortunately the government’s rejection stopped another important aim of pill testing programs by allowing drug and alcohol professionals having face time with active users. Again it seemed that “sending the right message” was more important than people’s lives.

We saw more bungling with the death of Gemma Thoms last week at the Big Day Out in Perth. In a panic about being caught by police sniffer dogs, Gemma swallowed her day’s supply of ecstasy. A NSW report in 2006 warned of this very situation but had been ignored by police in all states. To top it off, WA police tried to
squirm around the blame by down playing the actual positioning of the sniffer dogs. Even the WA premier, Colin Barnett tried to dodge any blame and incredibly gave a "drugs are bad" lecture. A horrible case of public scare tactics and drug hysteria going horribly wrong.

Ecstasy 'Not Worse Than Riding'

Taking the drug ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse, a senior advisor has suggested.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), outlined his view in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
The council, which advises the government, is expected next week to recommend that ecstasy is downgraded from a class A drug to a class B one.

Ministers have outlined their opposition to any such move.

Professor Nutt wrote: "Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy."

Organ failure
The professor said horse-riding accounted for more than 100 deaths a year, and went on: "This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."

Ecstasy use is linked to around 30 deaths a year, up from 10 a year in the early 1990s. Fatalities are caused by massive organ failure from overheating or the effects of drinking too much water.

The ACMD last night distanced itself from Prof Nutt's comments.

A spokesman for the body said: "The recent article by Professor David Nutt published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology was done in respect of his academic work and not as chair of the ACMD.

"Professor Nutt's academic work does not prejudice that which he conducts as chair of the ACMD."

'No safe dose'
David Raynes, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, told the Daily Telegraph: "He is entitled to his personal opinion, but if his personal view conflicts so very strongly with his public duties, it would be honourable to consider his position.

"If he does not, the home secretary should do it for him."

Last September a Home Office spokesman said the government believed ecstasy should remain a Class A drug.

"Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably. There is no such thing as a 'safe dose'," he said.


Toaf said...

I hadn't heard that about MDMA and post-trauma. Interesting.

Gledwood said...

that's all over the news here... I think the media are disappointed no outrage has ensued. basically because even the press are tired to death of ecstasy scare stories when you're more likely to drown on the bath than die on a pill (or 10)...

Terry Wright said...

Howdy Toaf.
It's amazing that in the 21st century, people still suffer because of myths. Did you see the morphine shortage in Melbourne after the bushfires? The INCB keep supplies so tight that some countries do not even have morphine at all. It's a disgrace.

Thanks G.
The response here has been surprising too. I feel it's the start of a new era where common sense play a bigger part in drug policies worldwide.