Ecstasy has pretty bad connotations associated with it here in Australia and many parts of the world. But is this justified? Is it a harmful, destructive drug that is plaguing our society or is it a prime example of how the war on drugs is failing to protect us?
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If you have not heard of Jordy Hurdes, you may have been living under a rock. The 20 year old from Wangaratta suffered potentially permanent brain damage last year from allegedly taking a single pill of ecstasy and is considered “lucky to be alive”. Many people have called out saying that they don’t believe this story and say that there are details that have been omitted. Supposed ‘friends’ of Jordy have posted on social media saying things like “18 pills, $300 of ketamine and $200 of speed to be exact”. A doctor from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (whose name was omitted on request) has been quoted saying “Yes, there is a possibility of tremors when it comes to serotonin syndrome. But these symptoms described don’t sound like Ecstasy to me. There are so many substances out there, some of them we don’t even know yet. But yes, it’s possible that these symptoms you describe are a result of drug consumption”.
To clarify, ecstasy is a street drug that normally contains the main ingredient MDMA and including but not limited to meth-amphetamines and amphetamines also being present. MDMA starting gaining popularity in the 1980s and has since been associated with raves and dance music, and in recent times in Australia, Stereosonic. Its symptoms include euphoria, intimacy, and decreased feelings of depression. A study in 2011 run by J. H. Halpern et al failed to find any correlation between the use of MDMA and decreased cognitive abilities. in 2007 in Britain the Medical Research Council found that alcohol was more dangerous than marijuana, MDMA and LSD.
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What is thought to be the main culprit when talking about damage done from ecstasy, is PMA or para-Methoxyamphetamine. This substance taken at similar dosage sizes of MDMA can cause comas and even death. Because the materials needed for synthesising MDMA are expensive, PMA is often used instead and is extremely hard to detect unless a testing kit is used to determine purity. While these drugs themselves are illegal, testing kits are available for as little as $10 on sites like eBay. In some European countries, festivals have tents where you can go and get your pills tested, and if one is found to be containing any traces of PMA, the ‘brand’ of the pill (eg. Blue Mitsubishis, White Batmans) is put up on a list so people can see, and confiscated if other people bring them to be tested.
The real question here, is about whether we should legalise and regulate MDMA, which would eliminate ‘dodgy pills’ containing PMA and other dangerous street drugs, or continue prohibition and penalise people for using/supplying. We have been trying one of these approaches for nearly half a century, with the only results being more people being imprisoned, more people doing damage to their bodies, and millions in lost revenue on potential taxes.
Halpern, J. H., Sherwood, A. R., Hudson, J. I., Gruber, S., Kozin, D. and Pope Jr, H. G. (2011), Residual neurocognitive features of long-term ecstasy users with minimal exposure to other drugs. Addiction, 106: 777–786. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03252.x