Volunteers take MDMA (ecstasy) live on TV tonight

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Ryan_m_b
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Mod note: Use of recreational drugs is a hot button topic and previous threads don't have a good track record. Be advised this thread may be locked at any time. Please also note that the standard rules regarding illegal activity still apply.

For those who are interested and have access to it Channel 4 is putting on a show tonight and tomorrow at 10pm BST (UTC+1) which looks at the recreational drug ecstasy which will include volunteers taking the drug under controlled circumstances as an insight into its effects.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/drugs-live-the-ecstasy-trial/articles/homepage [Broken]
Series summary said:
Nearly half a million people are believed to take the Class A drug ecstasy every year in Britain and the country was dubbed the 'drug-taking capital of Europe' in a recent EU Drugs Agency report.

Now, in a UK television first, two live programmes will follow volunteers as they take MDMA, the pure form of ecstasy, as part of a ground-breaking scientific study.

Presented by Jon Snow and Dr Christian Jessen, the programmes aim to cut through the emotional debate surrounding the issue and accurately inform the public about the effects and potential risks of MDMA.

The six-month long neuroscience study - designed by two of the world's leading experts on MDMA, psychopharmacologists Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London and Professor Val Curran of University College London - is using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine how MDMA affects the resting brain in healthy volunteers for the first time.
 
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  • #2
Monique
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Taking drugs for a television show is not new (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4268896.stm), but I do wonder who would volunteer for taking hard drugs for six months? I assume the people must be naives to (the) drug(s) before participation? What ethical board approved the study?
 
  • #3
Ryan_m_b
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What do you mean by naive? I imagine they're quite clued up as to what is currently known. MDMA does have a history of use in medicine (before a ban due to its recreational use) so its fairly well known. Prof. Nutt has published some interesting articles on the relative risk of various recreational drugs, indeed he was sacked from the governments advisory council on the misuse of drugs due to one of these talks contradicting government policy.

Given the prevelance of the drug and that currently there isn't much to suggest any negative health effects research designed to shed a bit more light was probably judged to be less of a risk than staying in the dark.
 
  • #4
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What do you mean by naive?
Being naive to a drug just means you have never taken it before. This use of the term come up a lot in studies of mentally ill people. It is difficult to study conditions like schizophrenia, for example, because it's difficult to find someone with the diagnosis who is medication naive and presents clear symptoms unmodified by medications.
 
  • #5
Ryan_m_b
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Interesting, I've never come across the term before.
 
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Interesting, I've never come across the term before.
A handy term and not limited to drugs. I've read subjects described as naive to hypnosis as well. I suppose it could be applied in any case where prior exposure might alter the reaction.
 
  • #7
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one step beyond did a show in the early sixties called "The Sacred Mushroom" that was quite controversial at the time where the host John Newland took a trip to Mexico to meet a shaman and ingest a mushroom to enhance his "psychic" ability.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Step_Beyond_(TV_series [Broken])

 
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  • #8
dlgoff
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I'm wondering what's to be learned here; or is it just for "entertainment"? This stuff has been around for a while. I believe one of the earlier similar compounds was MDA (3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine) which the US Army experimented with.

Anyway.
peace-sign.gif
 
  • #9
Ryan_m_b
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I'm wondering what's to be learned here; or is it just for "entertainment"? This stuff has been around for a while. I believe one of the earlier similar compounds was MDA (3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine) which the US Army experimented with.

Anyway.
peace-sign.gif
I believe the point is to look at exactly what is happening in the brains of these people over time as well as educate the public.
 
  • #10
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I believe the point is to look at exactly what is happening in the brains of these people over time as well as educate the public.
According to your quote, it's the first time the brains of people on ecstasy will have been imaged by fmri. Doing this on live TV seems like creating a spectacle, though.
 
  • #11
Ryan_m_b
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According to your quote, it's the first time the brains of people on ecstasy will have been imaged by fmri. Doing this on live TV seems like creating a spectacle, though.
I can see the argument for one, the other and both. On the one hand it could be an informative piece that stirs up reasonable debate in the public sphere, on the other band it could be seen as a shallow attempt to boost ratings with controversy and voyeurism. Or it could be a bit of both.

At the moment I'm optimistic for the former, we'll see in a couple of hours.
 
  • #12
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I can see the argument for one, the other and both. On the one hand it could be an informative piece that stirs up reasonable debate in the public sphere, on the other band it could be seen as a shallow attempt to boost ratings with controversy and voyeurism. Or it could be a bit of both.

At the moment I'm optimistic for the former, we'll see in a couple of hours.
I'm pretty sure it's not airing in the US, so you'll have to report.
 
  • #13
Evo
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I thought the concern was long term effects of use, and even long after the drug was stopped.
 
  • #14
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I remember some commercials that mentioned some kids who died just from taking ecstasy once. I guess that was propaganda?
 
  • #15
Evo
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I remember some commercials that mentioned some kids who died just from taking ecstasy once. I guess that was propaganda?
The problem is that it's often taken with other potent drugs, and deaths do occur.
 
  • #16
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I thought the concern was long term effects of use, and even long after the drug was stopped.
One thing more concerns me that there appears to be positive correlation between social circles that heavily use drugs and those that engage in criminal activities. Social implications of consuming drugs, particularly that are classified as illegal, on regular basis are more or equally important as effect on personal health.
 
  • #17
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The problem is that it's often taken with other potent drugs, and deaths do occur.
And in this case, somebody died from overdoing the "safety precautions" and drinking 7 liters of water in 90 minutes. FWIW the original media stories were that it was death following the first use of E, but that later turned out to be untrue. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leah_Betts

But whatever the actual cause of death, you could argue that a normally intelligent 18 year old wouldn't drimk that much water without a reason, and it's fairly clear what the reason was.
 
  • #18
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And in this case, somebody died from overdoing the "safety precautions" and drinking 7 liters of water in 90 minutes. FWIW the original media stories were that it was death following the first use of E, but that later turned out to be untrue. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leah_Betts

But whatever the actual cause of death, you could argue that a normally intelligent 18 year old wouldn't drimk that much water without a reason, and it's fairly clear what the reason was.
What does that have to do with the dangers of MDMA? Surely you aren't arguing that death due to drugs is not of concern because some idiot could be coaxed into drinking too much water to win a Wii out of greed.

Drugs of this nature impair judgement.
 
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  • #19
Astronuc
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Drugs of this nature impair judgement.
Exactly - besides the potential physiological damage done from the drug (and other drugs) and the stupid things that some folks do under the influence.

Also, in many cases, there is no control of dose or control of other impurities.

And some folks may start with a cognitive (intelligence) deficit.
 
  • #20
Monique
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Being naive to a drug just means you have never taken it before. This use of the term come up a lot in studies of mentally ill people. It is difficult to study conditions like schizophrenia, for example, because it's difficult to find someone with the diagnosis who is medication naive and presents clear symptoms unmodified by medications.
Yes, that's exactly what I meant with naive: previously unexposed to MDMA.

I collaborate with people doing fMRI and other brain-imaging studies in psychiatric conditions and you put the finger on the right spot: the influence of prior/ongoing medication on brain development/functioning often comes up.

I don't know how the MDMA study is designed, but if you put out a call for people to undergo brain imaging while taking the drug it's likely that people who have previously taken MDMA will apply to participate.
 
  • #21
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I don't know how the MDMA study is designed, but if you put out a call for people to undergo brain imaging while taking the drug it's likely that people who have previously taken MDMA will apply to participate.
Yes, and for this study these are probably the very people you don't want. If you're trying to study the effects of MDMA by fMRI, you'd want to get 'before' scans of subjects completely naive to the drug, to compare to the scans you get after those subjects take it.
 
  • #22
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Yes, and for this study these are probably the very people you don't want. If you're trying to study the effects of MDMA by fMRI, you'd want to get 'before' scans of subjects completely naive to the drug, to compare to the scans you get after those subjects take it.
That would be important and also ongoing studies for years.
 
  • #23
Ryan_m_b
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Ok here's Ryan's Review;

I have mixed feelings about the show. To address the study first it did seem very interesting. Volunteers are administered a pill of MDMA before being placed in an fMRI machine for 90 minutes as it begins to take effect. Whilst in the machine they are asked questions about how they feel and how they feel about specific events/situations. After 90 minutes the effect is at its peak and they are moved to interview rooms where they answer questions such as "thinking back on [bad event in your life you told us about before] how do you feel about that now?". They were also presented with images of people and asked to evaluate feelings of trustworthyness about the person etc. The volunteers were from all walks of life and were very clued in as to why the research is important (not just to help drug policy and outline any future problems but also as a potential treatment for depression/PTSD). They also weren't the type of people who you'd expect to have taken drugs before, the first they introduced was a priest who volunteered because she has experience working with people with drug problems and wants to help advance scientific understanding. I'm interested to read the material they will eventually publish.

Onto the show itself; positives were that the poltics were kept to an absolute minimum. There was some mention but otherwise it was quite informative and unbiased. Topics covered included the history of MDMA, what is currently known about its effects, what is estimated about its current use (slightly under 1% of the country take it once per year) and what the study was hoping to achieve. My biggest criticism and concern was that they were presenting a lot of yesterdays findings as definitive and all encompassing rather than tentative preliminary data. At one point they had two large models of each hemisphere with sections lighting up representing what areas of the brain had been observed to do what. They've observed an interesting phenomenon in the serotonin pathway in that MDMA seems to cause a desynchronisation between the dorsal and ventral sides. This was contrasted to the brains of people with depression who have strong synchronisation. All of this however was presented as though finished rather than as the first preliminary indications of a long study. This tone was carried through the show and whilst it's hard to think of other specific examples it was very "CSI science" in the sense that it gave the impression that this one day of research had produced copious amounts of conclusive data that we can start drawing conclusions from.

A followup episode is on tonight where they will discuss further the issues surrounding MDMA and bring some of the volunteers back to see how they are feeling (i.e. how come down they are).
 
  • #24
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My biggest criticism and concern was that they were presenting a lot of yesterdays findings as definitive and all encompassing rather than tentative preliminary data. At one point they had two large models of each hemisphere with sections lighting up representing what areas of the brain had been observed to do what. They've observed an interesting phenomenon in the serotonin pathway in that MDMA seems to cause a desynchronisation between the dorsal and ventral sides. This was contrasted to the brains of people with depression who have strong synchronisation. All of this however was presented as though finished rather than as the first preliminary indications of a long study. This tone was carried through the show and whilst it's hard to think of other specific examples it was very "CSI science" in the sense that it gave the impression that this one day of research had produced copious amounts of conclusive data that we can start drawing conclusions from.
Given that the "findings" seem to have been predetermined, did it seem they might be trying to disseminate a pro or con attitude to the drug?
 
  • #25
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What does that have to do with the dangers of MDMA? Surely you aren't arguing that death due to drugs is not of concern because some idiot could be coaxed into drinking too much water to win a Wii out of greed.

Drugs of this nature impair judgement.
One of the effects of MDMA is elevated body temperature. Add in the physical activity of dancing at raves, where ecstasy was commonly used, an individual will usually drink water continiously so as to avoid dehydration. With impaired judgement, overdoing the drinking of the water leads to a low level of salt in the blood ( which can lead to confusion and swelling of the brain and coma as a worst case scenariio ).

Street ecstasy is not pure MDMA, but is cut with other substances, some toxic and hallucinatory. Add in the nice bright colors and a logo and the ecstasy pill looks as harmless as a candy, but a user can never be sure of exactly what they will receive as quality control from the labs is substandard.

Research on stimulant and halucinatory drugs is extensive. The affects of MDMA on the human body are completely known and any internet search would bring up multiple hits. MDMA releases in the brain neurotransmitters, of which include seratonin, and the high when under the influence and low after use is explainable.

Personnally, having people taking the drug for a public audience, and to just rehash what is already known by previous research is questionable.
 

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