Ecstasy effects 'may be imaginary'
LONDON, England -- An article in a British scientific journal suggests the party drug Ecstasy may not be dangerous -- and that reported ill effects could be imaginary.
Writing in the British Psychological Society's magazine The Psychologist, three researchers -- two from Liverpool, England, and one from California -- criticised studies into the drug's effects.
Studies have reported that the tablets -- popular with young people attending raves and nightclubs -- cause long-term brain damage and mental problems.
But the new article criticised that research and accused researchers of bias. The article was written by Jon Cole and Harry Sumnall of the University of Liverpool and Charles Grob of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in California.
Cole is an expert in cognitive neuroscience and Sumnall is a post-doctoral psychopharmacologist; both work in the university's psychology department. Grob, director of the hospital's division of child and adolescent psychiatry, is a leading U.S. expert on child and adolescent depression and adolescent drug use.
Their criticisms focussed on several areas of existing research:
The article was countered by three other Ecstasy experts writing in The Psychologist, who dismissed the idea that Ecstasy's symptoms were imaginary.
"There is strong converging evidence that Ecstasy does cause impairment, that it is not merely iatrogenic," wrote Rodney Croft, a research fellow at the Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn, Australia.
"Although conclusions drawn from such evidence cannot be infallible, I believe that the strength of this evidence makes 'danger' the most reasonable message for the researchers to be broadcasting."
Michael Morgan, senior lecturer in experimental psychology at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, said he had found "overwhelming evidence" that regular Ecstasy use causes impulsive behaviour and impaired verbal memory.
He said he did not believe this could be due to "some form of autosuggestion."
"It seems highly implausible to me that samples of Ecstasy users could be sufficiently suggestible and sophisticated enough to feign such selective neuropsychological deficits and appear cognitively unimpaired in all other respects," he added.
Andy Parrott, a professor and addiction expert from the University of East London, said: "The deficits are very real and cannot be explained away as artifacts."
The article also was criticised by Paul Betts, whose daughter's death in 1995 after taking Ecstasy brought nationwide notoriety to the drug in the UK.
Between 1993 and 1997 there were 72 deaths in the UK attributed to Ecstasy.
Betts described the article as "despicable." Leah Betts died after taking one tablet of Ecstasy on her 18th birthday. Later it was revealed that she died as a result of drinking too much water to counteract the overheating effects of the Ecstasy.
"It has been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that every single Ecstasy tablet destroys parts of the brain. The main thing it destroys is serotonin, and depression follows on from serotonin depletion," Betts told the UK Press Association.
"It has reached such epidemic proportions in America that they talk of Suicide Tuesday. That's because people who have taken Ecstasy at the weekend are feeling so suicidal by Tuesday that they kill themselves.
"If you study experiments around the world the evidence against Ecstasy far outweighs anything else."
However, Roger Howard, chief executive of DrugScope, an umbrella organisation whose members include drug treatment providers and bodies working in the criminal justice field, told PA: "This underlines previous studies that have said much of the evidence around Ecstasy is not as reliable as it could be.
"This reinforces the need for the UK Home Secretary David Blunkett to refer the classification of Ecstasy to the experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, so that we can have an evidence based drugs policy that we can all trust."
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