Article: Is it Agony or Ecstasy? (6/2/04)

haste

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Is it Agony or Ecstasy?
Max Hirn suggests that society's view of ecstacy should be re-evaluated

3-4-methylendioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) had first reached London in the wake of 1988's 'Summer of Love' via Ibiza, providing the fuel and defining aspect of the Acid House explosion.

The vibrant new sub-culture rejected Thatcher's fierce individualism, plunging itself into collective chemical euphoria. Yet, the role Ecstasy plays in the British clubbing scene has changed in the last 16 years. No longer is it regarded the Soma the early Acid House movement worshipped it as. The collective disenchantment of the first 'chemical generation' - curiously reflected by the mid-90s' evolution of electronic music from uplifting and light-hearted styles towards darker, more aggressive ones such as Gabber and Jungle - has demystified the drug. Today it takes a less prominent place in the clubbers' ever expanding chemical arsenal. But the Class A substance is still high in demand. Despite government campaigns and highly publicised deaths, an estimated 1,000,000 pills are consumed every weekend. Availability is high and prices are lower than ever. Usually less than three pounds per pill.

After the recent reclassification of Cannabis, it is high time to reconsider policy on other drugs as well. Ecstasy possession and use should be decriminalized, and this is why: Punishing recreational MDMA use is fundamentally at odds with the principles of liberal democracy. The Human Rights Act holds under article 8: "Everyone has the right to respect for his private life... There shall be no interference by a public authority except such as is necessary in a democratic society... for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

Clearly, Ecstasy usage creates no disorder, except maybe disorderly hugging on the dancefloor. What is more, it is a fundamental characteristic of drug use that the health, rights and freedoms of others are not infringed. It is a victimless 'crime'. This holds especially for Ecstasy which lacks alcohol's side effect of increasing aggressiveness and doesn't cause procurement crime as do more addictive and expensive substances such as heroin or crack cocaine. Neither does it endanger 'morals'. A society which considers it a basic right to consume some drugs (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine etc.) cannot consider the use of other drugs immoral without being highly hypocritical. What is left as justification for persecuting Ecstasy usage is thus the 'protection of health'. This is acknowledged and directly reflected in the official objective of UK drug policy which aims at minimizing the harm done by drugs. The whole rational of criminalizing Ecstasy thus hinges on the assumption that persecution minimizes harm, that is, protects health. This is not the case, on the contrary.

Policy is not optimal, but this is does not to mean that Ecstasy is harmless. MDMA has been shown to possess neurotoxic qualities and first hand reports from heavy users suggest at least medium term problems such as anxiety and depression. A poster on a popular internet support message-board who had taken up to eight pills a night consecutively and over long periods put it like this: "I feel very spaced out nearly all the time, and extremely anxious... I feel like I'm only surviving life, not living it."

Yet, research has so far failed to yield conclusive evidence of significant, irreversible damage. Heavy users who suffer from anxiety and depression usually report improvement after permanently discontinuing use and most moderate users do not seem to suffer from any noticeable short or long run impairments.

The most acute risk of Ecstasy consumption is therefore death occurring during the high. In the six years from 1996 to 2002, there were 202 Ecstasy-related deaths in England and Wales. Of course, this is insignificant compared to the more than 100,000 alcohol related deaths in the same period. Even more so when one takes into account that in only 34 of the 202 deaths Ecstasy was the sole drug implicated. Nevertheless, surely one death is one too many.

The crucial point is that most of the 34 deaths could have been avoided with a more intelligent policy. This is because people die not from Ecstasy, but from wrong behaviour. The LD50 of MDMA is approximately 50mg per kg. A person with a bodyweight of 70kg would thus need more than 40 average ecstasy pills to die from an overdose, which is far below the one to three pills usually taken on one occasion. What kills most people are things like overheating, dehydration or water intoxication. These conditions are aggravated by MDMA but fatal only because of ill-advised conduct.

In a sadly ironic way the two most publicised Ecstasy-related deaths in the last years illustrate this fact. Leah Betts, the government's cover girl in a nationwide anti-Ecstasy campaign in 1995 had not died of an 'Ecstasy overdose' as was falsely suggested but of hyponatraemia - water intoxication. She would still be alive had she known the risks of excessive water consumption while on the drug. Lorna Sprinks, whose death caught nation-wide media attention in 2001, probably died of serotonin syndrome (a quasi allergic reaction) and hyperthermia (overheating) after taking two pills that contained far-above average amounts of MDMA. It is doubtful that she would have dosed so high had she known the pills' contents. Another problem is that cheaply produced pills can contain dangerous adulterants such as PMA which greatly increase the risk of dying.

Instead of wasting its time and resources on senseless persecution, which in the last two decades has reduced neither supply, nor consumption nor deaths, the government should increase safe-use education and allow the systematic testing of circulating pills as is being done in France, Germany, Spain and other European countries. The demand for such a warning system is clearly shown, but only insufficiently met, by private websites such as www.pillreports.com which publish pictures and first hand reports of pills.

One objection remains. Would decriminalization not drastically increase consumption and thus indirectly the occurrence of deaths? As intuitive as this argument sounds, it is also wrong. A MORI poll conducted for the Police Foundation's Independent Inquiry has shown that only 17 per cent say they did not use drugs because of fear of legal consequences.

Most don't because they simply don't feel like doing, or are afraid for their health or of addiction. Furthermore, it is a little known fact that possession and use of small amounts of all drugs have been decriminalized in Italy, Spain and Portugal. Has Ecstasy consumption exploded in these countries? On the contrary: it is fairly stable at a level below the British.

There remains thus no argument for continuing current policy. It criminalizes a large group of British citizens without any benefits in terms of harm reduction.

The government should therefore ignore the inevitable yellow press outcry and follow its own declared objectives, that is, to minimize harm. This means to discourage Ecstasy use with honest education about its dangers and at the same time increase availability of information on how to use the drug safely. As long as the drug market remains illegal and the quality of pills uncertain, the government should allow systematic testing to identify pills with excessive or polluted doses. Finally, leave those in peace who want to exercise a basic right John Stuart Mill had recognized already 150 years ago: "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."

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Jimity

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Thats a very good article. Its about time we saw some serious articles that didnt contain the phrase "makes your spine bleed".

I hope that article reaches some eyes and ears that matter.
 

apollo

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haste said:
The crucial point is that most of the 34 deaths could have been avoided with a more intelligent policy. This is because people die not from Ecstasy, but from wrong behaviour. The LD50 of MDMA is approximately 50mg per kg. A person with a bodyweight of 70kg would thus need more than 40 average ecstasy pills to die from an overdose, which is far below the one to three pills usually taken on one occasion. What kills most people are things like overheating, dehydration or water intoxication. These conditions are aggravated by MDMA but fatal only because of ill-advised conduct.
Well said :)
 

Groovstar

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Tomorrows western world will be a better place because of ecstasy. Old school naivety is disolved and it allowed many to feel true empathy, something a lot of us would never have experienced without it, especially in this mass urban lifestyle.

But yes it does have it's darkside. Like all good things, except sex, moderation is your friend ;)
 
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beech

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I dont know that I agree with the concept of legalising exstacy. Sure it would make most of our lives easier but just because other drugs such as alcohol and tabacco which are not neccessairly good for us are legal doesn't mean we should legalise other drugs.
We dont know the exact long term effects of exstacy on the body, we know of some of the detrimental effects but not all of them. Imagine if it was to be legalised and then 5 or so years down the tracks it turns out that E is incredibly harmful. Much in the same way that it became known that cigarettes are harmful.
I agree that legalising E might not result in a great increase in useage as people may still be afraid of trying it due to whatever reasons. But I think the increase in useage that would occur is not desireable. The culture change that it could possibly bring could be quite drastic. 15 year olds going to house parties while still at school and instead of drinking alcohol and getting drunk they drop pills and get loved up/fucked up. Obviously E wouldn't be legal for minors the same as alcohol isn't but we all know that wouldn't stop underage ppl obtaining it. I'm not niave enough to think underages dont already access drugs but the increase useage in such an age group is a fairly scary concept to me.
Also I think of the increase in exstacy related deaths that would occur. We already have a problem with drink driving and have measures in place to stem this and clearly we are developing a drug driving problem too with the imminent introduction of random drug tests on the roads (a thread here somewhere about it). Regardless of the education that could be present with the legalisation of E there would still be the percentage of the population who dont behave resposibly when on the drug, much the same as many doint behave responsibly when consuming alcohol.

The article mentions something along the lines of E not having any significant side effects. From personal experience I find this to be untrue. I know a number of people and have number of friends who have really struggled through life when regularly using E. It can cause depression and anxiety and leave people pretty messy and unable to function effectively in their everyday life. I believe E is is much easier to develop an addiction to than alcohol simply due to the way it makes you feel - Again this is all just my personal opinion. I believe that its much easier for someone to crave the feeling E gives you than the feeling alochol gives you. I think this has the potential to really negatively effect people's lives. An example would be the Year 12 student - Final year of school and is also 18, tries excstacy, likes it alot and starts to regualrly use it on weekends. The comedown and feelings of anxiety and depression felt during the week adversely effect his studies and he really struggles through school and has quite an unsuccessful year, greatly effecting his future oportunites. (story sound familiar to anyone?) I'm not saying everyone who tries E gets hooked, most dont but a significant percentage from my personal experiences go through a period(s) where they really struggle with life due to the negative effects.
We also know that mdma is neuro-toxic. Considering this is something we dont really know a lot about suggests to me that it would be foolish to legalise something that we are not completely knowledgeable about. This also makes total education difficult if we do not have all the facts in the first place.
Dont get me wrong I really enjoy exstacy in some respects i'd be happy if E was legal but I just think there are too many negatives that outweigh the positves for legalising exstacy. Sure it would make partying easier but i think we need to look past issues of convenience.

Sorry bout length of post.

Beech out
 
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