This week, a groundbreaking television documentary will air in the United Kingdom. “Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial” (Channel 4) features musician-actor Keith Allen consuming MDMA, the pure form of ecstasy. Twenty-four other volunteers — among them a priest, politician, research editor and veteran — will participate in a double-blind study in which they will undergo MRI testing and certain brain and cognitive tests.
I suppose the Queen of England doesn’t approve, for the show has incited controversy in the U.K. and on the Internet. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation deemed the show “unenlightening;” a curious thought, considering some of today’s most popular television shows depict little more than belligerents getting shitfaced (see: “Skins,” “Jersey Shore,” “Real World,” etc.).
While the show is not empirical research, advancing public knowledge on an illicit substance (one which 1.5 percent of the American population has consumed) should not be considered taboo or even controversial. This is especially true when we consider the surprisingly small amount of research conducted with MDMA, research that yields seemingly contradicting results.
For two somewhat paradoxical reasons, research on MDMA should be encouraged, not suppressed. On the one hand, MDMA is potentially very dangerous; some recent studies indicate that recreational users of MDMA have increased rates of depression and anxiety, even after cessation. One the same note, MDMA has been shown to cause a reduction in the concentration of serotonin transporters in the brain, as well as the rate at which these transporters regenerate. Some studies conclude lasting deficits in serotonin transporters while other studies suggest that the brain may recover from such damage.
On the other hand, various studies on MDMA produce fairly beneficial results. It has been shown to be a possible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety for terminally ill cancer patients, trauma and marriage therapy.
With all of this contradicting information, it is essential that we continue doing research on MDMA, much more on drugs in general. Post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, anxiety — these are all serious conditions that are both physically and mentally damaging. PTSD affects war veterans at a higher incidence rate than any other demographic, so why dismiss a drug with the potential to help returning heroes?
Overall, media generally conditions viewers to believe that drugs are risky and mentally and physically harmful. In a certain sense, that perception may be correct. When I think about drugs and media, for example, I recall stories of disillusioned men high on bath salts consuming the faces of other disillusioned men high on bath salts. Nonetheless, whether you personally consume drugs or if you abstain from them, we as a society need to also consider the possibility of mood-altering, illegal substances as potential treatments for a variety of severe and debilitating illnesses. What moral values do we really lose by conducting research on drugs with the potential to aid those who suffer?
When he’s not writing about MDMA, Michael Roe loves a relaxing, candle-lit soak in the tub … with bath salts, of course.
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