Deaths related to ecstasy have reached an all-time high, prompting leading experts to question current drug policy. But in a recent interview with The Guardian, two leading experts from Australia have claimed that much of the media coverage surrounding ecstasy and ecstasy related deaths is misinformed.
Dr Alex Wodak and Dr Gideon Warhaft, both members of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, a group that advocate reform of the Australian government’s drug policy have said that ecstasy is far less dangerous than people think. So they’ve taken a look at whether MDMA is as dangerous as previously claimed or whether the potential dangers have been overblown.
Why Do People Take Drugs, Like Ecstasy?
For many young people drug use allows them to feel more comfortable in social situations. People taking ecstasy, enjoy the experience and have described it as a better, gentler and more social drug than alcohol. Users have described themselves as feeling euphoric and wanting to dance. Ecstasy is also not associated with violence like alcohol which is linked to increased anti-social behaviour.
What Is Ecstasy?
When people buy ecstasy they’re trying to buy MDMA, a drug with weak stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. It produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and empathy toward others, and distorts time perception.
Is MDMA Dangerous?
All drug use can be dangerous, but Dr Wodak and Dr Warhaft, say that MDMA is one of the least dangerous drugs. In fact they claim it’s far less dangerous than cannabis or even legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol. MDMA is rarely addictive, and users only take the pills while at a rave or party. Of course MDMA fatalities can occur, but are extremely rare in comparison with the hundreds of thousands of doses taken each year.
Professor David Nutt, a drugs expert, was given the boot from the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) for saying that the risk of death from horse riding was greater than from taking ecstasy.
The big problem however is that MDMA is rarely pure. Users have died after taking, what they thought or were told was, MDMA but was in fact a dangerous mix of chemicals. This is because MDMA is illegal which forces the black market to get “creative” when making the pills. Sometimes they use the dangerous variants of MDMA like PMA, which has a similar effects but is toxic in much smaller doses.
Some commentators advocate a cultural change so that people taking ecstasy would stop. Will this ever happen?
Dr Wodak and Dr Warhaft say probably not. People will continue to use drugs like ecstasy, just like people drink despite knowing the dangers of alcohol. We have more chance of “nudging” people to less risky behaviours if the drug is regulated.
If pure MDMA is not as dangerous as claimed, why aren’t we finding other useful things to use it for other than recreation?
MDMA actually is already used when treating veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Current trials in the USA use MDMA to treat veterans with PTSD from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However getting official approval for medical research using MDMA has been impossible until recently and remains controversial.
Why don’t we regulate the manufacturing and distribution of MDMA?
On the one hand, authorities justify crackdowns on ecstasy by arguing that because MDMA is manufactured and distributed by the black market it it’s dangerous. However, when confronted with regulating MDMA manufacture and distribution, the same authorities argue all drugs (except alcohol and tobacco) are too dangerous to even consider regulating new drugs.
It’s clear then that taking MDMA or ecstasy, like all drugs, isn’t risk free. However the potential dangers may have been overblown in the media.