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January 17, 2008

What Ever Happened to Ecstasy? (Clinical, Historical, Speculative)

At the turn of this century, the media were all abuzz with sensational reports about Ecstasy (E, MDMA, Love Drug). Touted as the latest drug threat to youth, MDMA was a synthetic with psychedelic properties that had first been synthesized as a possible weight loss pill by Merck on the eve of World War One. Although patented, it was promptly forgotten because of the war and never produced commercially. Discovered in the Seventies by legendary American chemist Alexander Shulgin, it was soon being investigated by a small coterie of psychologists as an adjunct to group therapy.

 Relatively easy to synthesize, MDMA is an entheogen, but not a hallucinogen; it apparently produces its pleasant effects by inducing a surge of serotonin.  Soon, it had spawned a small recreational market,  that— when brought to the attention  of the DEA— (predictably) resulted in a ban.  Equally predictably, sales received a quick boost from the publicity and soon there was a thriving international black market resonating with the youthful Rave Culture, one in which several other “club drugs” were often consumed simultaneously.

Was this another counterculture in the making?

Apparently not; In short order, we’d had 9/11, a war on “Terror,” and a ratcheting up of global tension. There was also a scandal discrediting the most sensational studies claiming that Ecstasy produces permanent neurologic damage. The market definitely retreated and the “anti-drug forces were quick to claim credit without explaining why scolding would work in the case of E, but not against pot. A further short step backwards on the way the policy doesn’t address psychedelic issues at all allows us to see just how much the policy abuses science.   Drug War “truth” has Increasingly, been whatever irrational nonsense the policy has needed to defend itself against critics.

That defense has had other costs: we are now wedded to an improbable system of classification for mental illness; one that produces record numbers of named disorders for treatment by the steady stream of new, and  comparatively ineffective, psychotropic medications that are now Big Pharma’s biggest source of profit.

Lest we forget; it has also taken only 40 years for the drug war to quadruple the number of prisoners in our jails and prisons; almost exactly the  same interval that’s elapsed since new “anxiolytic” drugs released in the Sixties led to the abrupt closure of the huge state hospital system that had grown up for treating “mental illness” from a completely different perspective. Was that wise? Haven’t we simply replaced a relatively ineffective, but reasonably humane system with a brutal one that is both more expensive and less effective?

Also, are the homeless alcoholics now sleeping it off in our parks and doorways simply older and less violent “patients” than the ones we are filling our prisons with? How long can we tolerate such an expensive and destructive policy before discussing it openly?

When was the last time a Presidential Candidate said anything at all about the drug war?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 17, 2008 08:01 PM