Monday, 21 February 2011

Study Proves Ecstasy is Safe … ish

Finally! After years of dodgy reporting and hysterical reactions, ecstasy(MDMA) has been given the green light. Well, maybe not green but at least amber.

Residual Neurocognitive Features Of Long-Term Ecstasy Users With Minimal Exposure To Other Drugs
John H. Halpern1, Andrea R. Sherwood4, James I. Hudson2, Staci Gruber3, David Kozin1, Harrison G. Pope Jr2,*
Article first published online: 15 FEB 2011
© 2010 The Authors, Addiction © 2010 Society for the Study of Addiction

Aims:  In field studies assessing cognitive function in illicit ecstasy users, there are several frequent confounding factors that might plausibly bias the findings toward an overestimate of ecstasy-induced neurocognitive toxicity. We designed an investigation seeking to minimize these possible sources of bias.

Design:  We compared illicit ecstasy users and non-users while (1) excluding individuals with significant life-time exposure to other illicit drugs or alcohol; (2) requiring that all participants be members of the ‘rave’ subculture; and (3) testing all participants with breath, urine and hair samples at the time of evaluation to exclude possible surreptitious substance use. We compared groups with adjustment for age, gender, race/ethnicity, family-of-origin variables and childhood history of conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We provide significance levels without correction for multiple comparisons.

Setting:  Field study.

Participants:  Fifty-two illicit ecstasy users and 59 non-users, aged 18–45 years.

Measurements:   Battery of 15 neuropsychological tests tapping a range of cognitive functions.

Findings:  We found little evidence of decreased cognitive performance in ecstasy users, save for poorer strategic self-regulation, possibly reflecting increased impulsivity. However, this finding might have reflected a pre-morbid attribute of ecstasy users, rather than a residual neurotoxic effect of the drug.

Conclusions:  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.

The myths about ecstasy have plagued us for decades and continue today. Although MDMA is probably the safest recreational drug we know of, it is still classified by all countries as a schedule I drug along side heroin and LSD. It is even listed as more dangerous than cocaine and amphetamines. Even though several US health industry groups went to court in 1985 and the judge ruled that MDMA should be available for research, the DEA ignored the ruling and used their own special emergency powers to ban it immediately. Since then, it has remained as a schedule I drug. This was the start of a campaign against MDMA where the truth comes second to scary myths, ranting nutters and dubious research. Although it still rages on today, this latest research might finally shed some myths that are all too often, quoted as facts.

With Ecstasy out of control in the states, the government attempted to take action – with propaganda. In 1998 the DEA decided to sponsor Dr. George Ricardi of John Hopkins University to do a study pertaining to the effects that Ecstasy had on the brain. With Ricardi’s research complete he published his final results. His research showed that when a person takes one single recreational dose of Ecstasy it reduced the brain’s serotonin (chemical in the brain that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and emotion) by 50-85% which was then irreversible. With this information out, NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) produced a pamphlet labeled, “Your Brain on Ecstasy,” the image shown was that of a brain with a line cutting down the middle of it. On the left side was the label, “Your Brain Before Ecstasy” with a full, healthy looking brain. On the right side were the words, “Your Brain After Ecstasy,” which was visually portrayed as a shriveled, hole infested lump. The image was supposed to show the serotonin depletion after a dose of MDMA but as Dr. Stephen Kish (who is the world’s leading researcher studying the brain) said, “The problem with these index cards given to young people by NIDA is that the brain scan pictures of the Ecstasy users looks like there are large holes in the brain, and that’s just not true. But for me the main problem with the index cards was that it was based on faulty data (Jennings, 2004).” That is where the myth was born that Ecstasy causes holes in the brain. In 2002, Ricardi performed another government funded study on the effects MDMA had on the brain. This test was to prove that one tablet of Ecstasy could cause Parkinson’s disease in the individual. His test was performed on monkeys, by injecting them with what was allegedly a single dose of “Ecstasy.” His verdict: Ecstasy can lead to Parkinsonism. 

Dr. Kish was right; there was faulty data in the 1998 Ricardi study. The first obvious fault in his study was the fact that from the subjects he used to test, it could not have been certain whether or not they had ever even used MDMA in their lives because there was no hair sample (hair samples are used to test for drug use over a long period of time). The second major issue that’s prevalent is that during his testing, Ricardi noted that some brains had almost 40x more serotonin than others, “scientists say such a variation is simply impossible (Jennings, 2004).” After being disproved by Kish he retracted his 2002 statement that said that Ecstasy can lead to Parkinson’s disease by saying “[he] mistakenly gave methamphetamines, a far more toxic substance than Ecstasy, to the monkeys he used in the study (Jennings, 2003)." 

The “Hole in the brain” myth was popularised by Oprah and an MTV special on Ecstasy in 2000. This type of publicity still drives the hysteria surrounding ecstasy along with the usual suspect from the anti-drug brigade.

The problem to date is that the research into MDMA has been dubious at best. Although not as bad as the “Hole in the brain” scam or the claims that it causes Parkinson’s Disease after one use, most research has been rejected by experts as biased or flawed. Ironically, this latest robust research is by NIDA, the very group who blindly supported the flawed studies by Dr. George Ricardi and spent millions promoting his findings. Even after Dr. Ricardi’s research was exposed as flawed, NIDA refused to remove his findings from their website. You have to wonder if they commissioned this latest research in the hope that negative results would back their decade’s old campaign against MDMA. Whatever their motives, this latest study must be burning a hole in the brain of the officials who have tried so hard, for so long to demonise ecstasy.

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Anonymous said...

Ok well i must admit i didnt really have to read the above article to know that ecstasy use doesnt causes parkinsons,holes in brains or permanent mental damage.. especially from a single dose. As quite some years ago now i did take alot of ecstasy and through many great enlightening nights there was plenty of depressive lows but in my eyes definitely worth it,and was always my choice.I do believe it did start to have a big part to play when it came down to me finding happiness without taking it and everyday life seemed to be dull for quite sometime in between the cycle and for awhile afterwards, but i know many a person who experienced the same lack of enthusiasm for life and they never took any ecstasy or other drugs. all it took was a little time[around6mnths] going without any ecstasy or other rec drugs to find my feet and settle into a more stable way of life.. Now i know im doing as good as ever and intellectually feel as if years of drug abuse didnt have an overall too bad effect on me mentally or physically, and in my eyes it opened my eyes to many a positive thought and fantastic memories which i will hold onto forever instead of having regrets.

Anonymous said...

just a heads up, it is George Ricaurte, not 'Ricardi' :)