As the drug Ecstasy rises in popularity, the media clamors to “educate” families on the immanent dangers of brain damage, depression, and possible death that the drug poses. I wanted to validate the claims, which stem largely from the media, to see if they were valid, and prepare myself for any long term repercussions that might arise from my own Ecstasy use. I decided to review an article entitled “How the media reports Ecstasy,” by Nicholas Saunders, and a “Testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission on MDMA,” by Charles Grob, M.
D. Saunders, the author of a popular book on Ecstasy, argues that the media has exaggerated the dangers posed by Ecstasy, and muses that the press isn’t fulfilling its proper function of “questioning government policies” (1), as it should in a true democracy, but instead supports government propaganda.Dr. Charles Grob, a MDMA researcher of 20 years, contests the Sentencing Commission’s decision to increase penalties for Ecstasy trafficking. His focusing arguments aim at discrediting research presented to the Sentencing Commission by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), using scientific tactics to probe and criticize the anti-drug organization’s research methods. Previously, I was not aware an opposing, positive view on Ecstasy existed in the scientific community.Upon commencing my investigation, I discovered an entirely different “camp” of researchers. These are men and women who believe benefits of Ecstasy could be therapeutically realized with advanced knowledge on the subject.
With Saunders’ and Grob’s arguments aside, the fact remains that eminent scientists have been ignored by the media, along with valid research pro ecstasy. This discovery spurned me to consider the views of the opposing camp with an open mind.A controversial issue concerning Ecstasy is whether or not the drug is responsible for brain damage, otherwise known as the “neural toxicity problem.” These days, the general consensus is that the drug is paramount to poison. Grob and Saunders both draw on research from the prominent neurotoxicologist James O’Callaghan to fuel their arguments against neural toxicity. For the sake of brevity, I will outline two general tenets of O’Callaghan’s research which suggest Ecstasy doesn’t cause brain damage. First, heavy Methamphetamine (a drug closely related to ecstasy) users brains were analyzed post mortem, and there was no evidence of neural toxicity.
Secondly, ten million people have legally been taking fenafluramine, a drug closely related to Ecstasy, as a “slimming pill” for several years, and neurological damage has yet to surface in a single person (Grob 2). As an example of how the media overlooks these studies, Saunders brings to attention an article from the British Medical Journal entitled “Ecstasy and Neurodegeneration,” in which the reporter or doctor cited 12 papers to provide “indisputable evidence that Ecstasy is extremely dangerous.” (2). However all of the supporting papers were published before O’Callaghan’s work. (The article was written after O’Callaghan’s research) Is this a case of shoddy research, or a deliberate exclusion of pertinent information?Another scientific theory is that intermittent use of MDMA may not cause noticeable behavioral changes, but can later result in a psychological breakdown. This is harrowing to user and ex-user alike, and a very effective determent to discourage Ecstasy use. Grob explains the theory arose through the observation that the Ecstasy user has less serotonin, a condition which was believed to create a “neurological time bomb,” (Grob 2) when combined with the natural decrease in the serotonin system which accompanies old age. Grob closes to door to further argument simply by pointing out old people who used large amounts of ecstasy in the 80’s report no psychological disturbances today.
If the media is still reporting these outdated theories, the tactics could be seen in the same light as the “slate of good and bad deeds” (heaven and hell scare tactics) that religions used to manipulate followers. If there is no Ecstasy danger today, by God there will be in old age.Dr. Charles Grob denounces the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) as “an egregious example of the politicization of science, which not only clouds our understanding of the effects of MDMA but also undermines the credibility and integrity of the scientific process” (2). Dr. George Ricuarte spear-headed the NIDA investigations to prove Ecstasy causes brain damage. He employed control groups of ecstasy users who were also heavy, poly drug users (Grob 2).
To elucidate the discrepancy, the neural damage in the control group could have been caused by drugs ranging from alcohol to heroin. In contrast to Ricuarte’s biased, pre-selected control group, Grob’s own MDMA research group exhibited no evidence of short or long-term neuropsychological damage, and the subjects were notable for their “impressive level of psychological and physical health” (2).Grob also accuses Ricuarte of omitting vital data sets from published reports, and posits that this lead to exaggerated claims in scientific literature, which were taken even further out of proportion by “sensationalist media tactics” (2).
Saunders purports the media draws largely on Ricuarte to advance their campaign against Ecstasy. If Ricuarte’s research on neural toxicity was inconclusive at best, and “grossly misleading” (Grog 2) at worst, how many people have been misled by the media, and what is the cost of ignorance? On a more sinister note, Grob and Saunders agree that anti-drug research is lavishly funded, while organizations that study the positive aspects don’t receive government grants. What motivation does Ricuarte have to publish the benefits of Ecstasy?Since the NIDA exclusively investigates the problems with drugs, a shift to publishing the benefits of an illicit drug would not only be inconceivable, but threatening to the funding of the entire project.
Ironically, we naturally distrust government, but feel refreshed by the objectiveness of science. We feel a sense of security when media reports are sanctified by “scientific evidence,” but do we ever consider that perhaps science isn’t infallible, and is just as subject to bias as religion?To support his claims that the media exaggerates the dangers of Ecstsasy, Saunders states three additional cases of misreporting. In the second, The Scottish Medical Journal reported a man who died after his drink had been spiked with Ecstasy. Saunders noticed the symptoms were unusual for MDMA, and when he asked the reporter what other drugs were found, he replied “Unfortunately, no assays for MDMA or related substances were made.
” (Saunders 1)! The glaring error is a deliberate exclusion of the facts, leading to an arbitrary conclusion; Ecstasy being the scapegoat. Saunders attributes this “scapegoat” phenomena to the natural reluctance people have to see situations in their full complexity (3). I see the problem as a case of irresponsibility. Ecstasy is a subterfuge that prevents us from the rigorous effort of questioning a value system that is sick enough to foster all forms of addictions, including Ecstasy abuse. If all the Ecstasy in the world was destroyed, we would still be at the same evolutionary level; our psychological problems would only manifest through different forms.
The immediate result of the media’s Gestapo tactics is that some people will be put off to using drugs. However, Saunders warns of the loss of respect that young people have towards politicians, who they see as hypocrites (3). As the director of a large child and adolescent substance abuse program at UCLA, Grob claims Drug War politics have been “dominated by misinformation and exaggeration,” and young people don’t respond well to a barrage of information they don’t trust (1). For example, as a rebellious adolescent, I believed my parents were overstating the dangers of drugs to scare me. As a result, I completely dismissed the dangers and iconoclastically continued to use drugs.Saunders proposes the internet as an information alternative to the media, where people can use message boards to report their experiences and ask questions about drugs (4).
I took the dangers of drugs more seriously when presented alongside the benefits, and would have commended my parents for recommending a couple, informative books or websites on drugs. No doubt, parents will be afraid that free information on drugs will increase the probability of abuse. This may be true, but there is no way around the situation; if nothing else, an honest, educational approach to drugs would open the lines of communication, and shorten the duration of the “experimental phase” (Shiozaki).
By claiming Ecstasy experiences positively transformed my life, I would, in the least be thought of as naive, and at most be imagined as a fiend, invalid, degenerate, or usurper of the “honest citizens” (Shiozaki) tax dollars. This collective, negative presumption is not only bigotry at its finest, but scientifically invalid. Following my research, I realized strong scientific evidence exists on both sides of the argument concerning Ecstasy brain damage, and scientists themselves were split into factions pro and con MDMA, which makes the problem more complicated than the emotional biases we feel towards good and evil (illicit) drugs.
The subdivision exists only in the mind, and not in reality. For instance, Grob believes Ecstasy can be used as a therapeutic medicine for patients of PTSD, mental illness, and other conditions that are non-responsive to conventional treatments (3). But until we move past stagnant ideologies, collectively ingrained via the media, therapeutic aid for rape victims and “patients of end stage mental illness” (Grob 3) will never be realized.
Benighted as it may sound, I believe Ecstasy gave me the insight to positively change my life.How many Ecstasy users consciously or unconsciously use MDMA for psychological relief? Is it so difficult to believe positive and negative benefits available through Ecstasy? If the media scare subsides, scientists could be granted funding to conclusively determine individual neural toxicity thresholds; to effectively educate users on the risks and benefits of MDMA, as an alternative to Drug War scare-tactics, and provide a manifold for other therapeutic methods utilized through MDMA.