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Due to request I’m writing a two-part article on ecstasy, I think I may do one of these drug posts a month. I still believe that to understand something with a wide perspective, it is important to understand the context that created the situation you find yourself in today whether through evolutionary psychology or through some simple research.
“Having a new major drug arrive on the scene is something that happens every half century or so, this is a major event in drug history.”
Christmas Eve, 1912, a new drug is born, MDMA. It isn’t until the late 70’s that MDMA started to develop more popularity. Psychologist Leo Zeff names the drug “Adam”, as he feels it returns the user to a state of bliss and innocence. Therapists begin using the drug and find it has incredible value for treatment of PTSD, clinical depression, and reducing death anxiety in individuals with terminal cancer. Ralph Metzner, PhD is quoted saying, “The very fact, it doesn’t change ordinary perception very much but changes the feeling quality, and reduces fear, thereby allowing you to look at in an impartial way, things that are too anxiety provoking to look at.”
Religious leaders worldwide soon take notice of the drug’s effects. A rabbi remembers his experience in “great delight in loving the universe and feeling loved by the universe.” A Benedictine monk was quoted saying, “Ecstasy has the capacity to put one on the path to divine union.” A Buddhist monk said it helped him become enlightened. Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers begin dispersing the drug internationally. Catholic priest Michael Clegg christens the drug “Ecstasy”, and was recorded as saying “It’s like Moses on the mountain, with the revelation!”
Clegg begins giving away MDMA in Texas at levels never seen before, increasing the amount of consumed ecstasy from a total 10,000 American doses, to approximately 500,000 per month. Clegg seeing it as a way to see the thoughts of God, started just giving it away, and soon, selling it, becoming ecstasy’s first millionaire. In 1984, the DEA notices the surge of this new drug, and in a typical knee jerk reaction uses emergency powers to place the drug in schedule 1(no medical use, high propensity for abuse) ignoring a judges advice to make it schedule 3, equating ecstasy use with that of heroin. This illegalization has no little effect on the spread of the drug. This same year the conservative Reagan administration begins it’s “just say no” campaign.
Ecstasy goes underground, and finds its way into nightclubs. This is also the genesis of a new form of music, Electronic Dance Music, or EDM. This music and dance scene acts as a perfect environment to foster ecstasy’s usage as a sensory enhancer with bright colorful lights, loud booming music and high population density; it explodes exponentially beginning a new type of dance party, the rave. It was typical in the early 90s to see raves or dance parties with anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of people.
In the late 90’s the government begins a media campaign headed by Dr. Alan Leshner, head of the National Institute on Drug abuse (NIDA) to discourage the use of ecstasy. The opening shot was the releasing of neuro-imaging scans showing the supposed brain state before as bright and health and after ecstasy usage, dull and full of holes. He is quoted by saying; “Even occasional use or single use is like playing Russian roulette with your own brain.” The government reported that serotonin function decreased in subjects from 50% to 85%. Serotonin is responsible for a multitude of functions including mood, appetite and sleep. The government reported that even 1 dose of ecstasy could cause Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Stephen Kish, is one scientist who challenged the claims of the government and specifically targeted the postcards handed out by NIDA. Kish challenged the validity of very foundations of the study.
Another study in Germany found that not only was serotonin function not decreased by such a large percentage, in actuality, only 4-5%, but that after 3 months of abstained usage there was no noticeable difference in brain function. Proving the previous data a complete exaggeration of the risk. The previous study showing the increase of Parkinson’s disease was proven instead to be based off of not MDMA, but Methamphetamine, a far more dangerous chemical. As far as the risk of death goes, in a 3-year period, a New York medical examiner looked to see the role of ecstasy in deaths. Of the 19,000 deaths 22 had ecstasy in their system, and 2 died from only ecstasy. At the time, the DEA reported that New Yorkers used approximately 110 million doses.
The cost of the DEA, who cried wolf, may have more long lasting repercussions than previously thought, by decreasing the credibility of the government, in an already highly skeptical youth culture. The difficulty in government regulation of the drug may in fact be caused by the nonchalant attitude taken in the early stages of MDMA regulation, valuing political agendas and propaganda scare tactics over the intelligence of the average American. The fear for the government may now be not only does the drug bridge all age demographics and have high user satisfaction but now even valid health concerns may be met with disbelief and resentment.
There are risks however, involved in the recreational consumption of the drug, and when the government made the drug illegal, criminals took control of it. In an attempt to make profit, the manufacturers of MDMA may mix different substances in with the pills unknown to the typical user. In understanding that the motivation of the source is only profit and is inherently criminalistic in nature, a trust placed on the friendly words of a friend or acquaintance in regard to an individual’s neurological health, may be misplaced. Currently there are resources available to the public such as http://www.pillreports.com/ a website dedicated to the documentation and data basing of ecstasy internationally through user reports and scientific chemical analysis.
The use of mind-altering substances to elicit religious and emotional experiences has been around since the knowledge of their existence and is unlikely that this will stop any time soon. They are still used in religious groups today with consumption of alcohol in Catholicism at communion; Cannabis in Rastafarianism and Hinduism, Mescaline is used in certain Native American rituals, etcetera. With access to factual information one is able to pick the truth out from a sea of biased here-say and typical media tactics used to increase their viewer ship. I trust that an individual armed with knowledge can organize their behaviors in a constructive and responsible fashion and make educated choices to improve their lives.
Later this week, ill write about what exactly happens in the brain during a typical ecstasy dose, emotionally, chemically, and what some the neuroplastic consequences a user may experience.