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  Ecstasy: Are 'Scare Tactics' Valid?
Posted by FoM on March 18, 2002 at 09:26:47 PT
By Carla McClain, Arizona Daily Star  
Source: Arizona Daily Star  

cannabisnews.com This is your brain. This is your brain after Ecstasy. The healthy brain fills the skull. It's all there. The Ecstasy brain is clearly damaged -shrunken, chunks of it missing, like the brain of an Alzheimer's victim.

It is a disturbing image now being broadcast nationwide to warn young people tempted by the wildly popular "club drug" known as Ecstasy, by far the drug of choice today with fans of the big party scene.

But it has set off a firestorm of argument among doctors and drug experts over how real the dangers of Ecstasy - a psychedelic stimulant sometimes called "the love drug" - actually are. Critics are calling the federal government's current anti-Ecstasy campaign overhyped "scare tactics" based on faulty science.

After all, this is a drug once prescribed by psychiatrists to help open up troubled patients, to facilitate their treatment and healing. Those who use it say it makes them open and loving and energetic and peaceful, without scary out-of-reality trips or harsh withdrawal.

"It reminds you of the old 'reefer madness' days, doesn't it?" said Edward D. French, University of Arizona professor of pharmacology and an expert in drugs of abuse.

"Thirty years ago, they tried to tell us marijuana was going to turn all of us into drug-crazed psychotics. I saw the movie 'Reefer Madness' back then and laughed at it.

"But the problem is that after all the research that's been done since, we now know there are some real problems with long-term marijuana use. The 'reefer madness' claims were exaggerated, but there was a kernel of truth to it.

"I'm afraid that's what we're going to find with Ecstasy. Some of the warnings about brain damage may be hyped, but I think much of it is valid. I'm afraid the dangers are real."

Known scientifically as methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), the synthetic drug was declared illegal and barred from medicinal use in the mid-1980s - a controversial move that sent it into the underground drug world, only to explode illegally on the streets in the '90s as Ecstacy.

As overall drug use among teens declined by 20 percent in recent years, Ecstasy was the dramatic exception, its use jumping 70 percent since 1999 and 20 percent last year.

Nationwide, federal drug agents seized some 13,300 of the illegal tablets in 1996, compared with a whopping 950,000 in 2000. The ominous trend has not missed Tucson, with agents seizing fewer than 1,000 Ecstasy tablets in 1998 and nearly 50,000 last year.

Combining the effects of hallucinogens and amphetamines, Ecstasy has dominated the teen dance scene, allowing users to dance euphorically for hours to electronic music at giant all-night "raves" often attracting thousands of kids.

It was numbers like that that finally raised red flags at the federal level, prompting the National Institute of Drug Abuse to fund $54 million worth of scientific studies of the drug, then using the results to launch a national campaign to warn Ecstasy users that they are risking serious and possibly permanent brain damage.

In a drug alert bulletin issued last year, the institute warned that MDMA is no benign "fun" drug, as so many teens believe.

"Chronic use appears to produce long-term, perhaps permanent damage to serotonin-containing neurons in the brain," the bulletin states. "Given the important role serotonin plays in regulating emotion, memory, sleep, pain and cognitive processes, it is likely MDMA can cause a variety of behavioral and cognitive consequences as well as impairing memory."

The bulletin labeled the drug "neurotoxic," citing a series of "preliminary" study results. Among them:

* A monkey experiment, done at Johns Hopkins University, showed that only four days of exposure to Ecstasy caused changes in the brain affecting memory that persisted seven years later.

* Advanced brain imaging techniques, known as positron emission tomography, found direct physical evidence of damage to serotonin-releasing nerve cells in human Ecstasy users. In a related study, heavy users suffered memory loss problems that lasted two weeks after Ecstasy use stopped.

* A United Kingdom study of both current and former chronic Ecstasy users found persistent impulsive behavior and impaired working memory function compared with a control group of non-users. These problems did not reverse after long abstinence from the drug.

A Tucson teen who binged daily on heavy doses of Ecstasy for two weeks several months ago says she has not been the same since.

Now suffering severe headaches, occasional blackouts, social withdrawal and memory loss, Dominique, 17, in custody at Pima County Juvenile Court, said: "I lost a part of myself. I stutter. I have to try harder. I feel stupider - it's as if I can't think as fast, or I can't make the right connections.

"And I used to have a great memory, but it's bad now. I just hope it didn't put a hole in my brain, but I'm worried."

Ecstasy was in the mix of drugs that sent Tucsonan Steve Anthony Lopez, 18, to near brain death and a monthlong coma in November. Lopez's recovery, considered miraculous by his doctors, has required intense physical and behavioral therapy.

But it is the habit of Lopez and Dominique - and almost all Ecstasy users - to also take other illegal drugs and alcohol with their Ecstasy that has led critics of these studies and warnings to doubt their validity.

And it is a problem that even the researchers acknowledge is clouding their results.

For example, the now-famous image comparing the healthy brain to the Ecstasy brain has been blasted as misleading, because the damaged brain "comes from someone who abused multiple drugs and took several hundred doses of Ecstasy, a huge amount the average user will never approach," according to a recent column in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The research is seriously flawed, and the scare tactics are not working," said Dr. Charles Grob, a UCLA professor of psychiatry who has done an exhaustive review of the studies sponsored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

In addition to not being able to isolate the true effects of MDMA in people who are taking several drugs at the same time, Grob points out that monkeys and rats used in the animal studies were given huge doses of the drug, far more than an equivalent human would use recreationally.

He also notes that since Ecstasy became an illegal street drug - making big money for criminal drug dealers - it has been adulterated with other dangerous drugs and chemicals, possibly causing toxic effects unrelated to the MDMA.

And indeed, the one Tucson death linked to Ecstasy use was actually blamed on the drug PMA, a dangerous amphetamine, found in the Ecstasy tablets taken by 19-year-old Sean McDaniel on the night he died a year ago.

As a result, Grob and others say claims that MDMA causes brain damage are premature and unproven.

But that is not to say taking Ecstasy is safe. Far from it.

"The way kids are taking this drug today is extremely dangerous," Grob said.

"Not only do they not know what they're actually getting in that pill - they're taking it in overheated conditions, in a dehydrated state, and with multiple other drugs.

"The results of all that can be catastrophic - not only brain-damaging, but fatal."

Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Author: Carla McClain, Arizona Daily Star
Published: Monday, March 18, 2002
Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@azstarnet.com
Website: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/

Related Articles:

'Ecstasy' For Agony
http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread10372.shtml

Sentencing Guidelines Toughened for Ecstasy
http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread9087.shtml

Scientists Oppose Punishing 'Ecstasy' More Harshly
http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread9056.shtml


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Comment #2 posted by John Markes on March 19, 2002 at 03:52:29 PT
Just Makin' Business...
If one looks at current and past instances or illegalization of substances with recreational potential, one sees a frightening pattern. After relasing the substance or drug from the "confines" of regulation, they, each time, create the situation they then advertise as the "reason" the substance was made illegal. The side effects that result only in an environment free of regulation are the side effects being touted as reasons for keeping it unregulated and prohibited. Social psychology indicated that these government contrived situations benefit only those who make money off of it, but increases the number of those making money off of both sides of the fence. those who continue to sell the illegal substances and those who benefit from the presence of the prohibition environment.

In other words, the actions of the federal government, while doing nothing to benefit the public, provides a steady income for what would be considered war profiteers in otherwise ordinary circumstances. Or, in other words, they set the policy to make money and make money-making opportunities, at the expense of the public they are suppose to "protect and serve".

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Comment #1 posted by JHarshaw on March 18, 2002 at 18:25:36 PT
"The way kids are taking this drug today is extrem
Did you ever think about maybe telling the kids who will use these drugs, no matter what, the truth? That these drugs can be taken with minimal risk under the proper conditions.

"He also notes that since Ecstasy became an illegal street drug - making big money for criminal drug dealers - it has been adulterated with other dangerous drugs and chemicals, possibly causing toxic effects unrelated to the MDMA."

Well if they were legal then they could be produced in a safe and controlled environment just like a legal drug.

Sometimes I think these people wil never get it.

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