This is your brain / this is your brain on ecstasy?

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brain ecstasy.jpg

Ecstasy was initially used to help patients open up to psychiatrists; then became a huge hit at raves and parties. Now it is gaining popularity on all markets and is being used by all types of people.


Apparently the drug tends to make people extremely honest as well.


But the government decided the drug was dangerous and set out on a campaign to rid the world of ecstasy. In doing so, they caused a massive underground uprising and have done little to prevent people from using the drug, or wanting to use the drug and actually seem to have caused the adverse effect by using questionable research evidence to support their claims of danger and disaster to anyone who uses the drug.


You should start by watching this documentary reported by Peter Jennings that touches on the information that has been misconstrued by members of the scientific, medical, and government communities.

Peter Jennings - Ecstasy Rising


In the documentary, if you want to hear about when / how / why the drug became illegal, start watching around minute 14. But basically the gist of it is that the government does not want to allow people to use any type of drugs, so they found a reason (based on evidence from a 'related drug') to ban the drug.


At about 25:30 the video explains the government's response in "the dangers of ecstasy". This is where the "your brain on ecstasy" campaign began. This campaign used research mostly from a single doctor and his research found that even using ecstasy just one time can reduce the levels of serotonin in the brain (up to 85%) - causing the holes shown in the campaign image; that a single use can lead to Parkinson's disease, and that the damage is irreversible.


Here is an article from National Institute on Drug Abuse explaining some of the reasons that studying effects of ecstasy on the brain may be difficult and why some studies are not accurate.


Here is a 2011 article explaining that long term ecstasy use could be damaging to the brain.


And another 2011 article claiming the opposite.


Here are two different studies, both published in "Addiction Journal" about the long term effect that ecstasy DOES NOT have on the brain:


Ecstasy use combined with no other drugs

Findings indicate, "We found little evidence of decreased cognitive performance in ecstasy users, save for poorer strategic self-regulation, possibly reflecting increased impulsivity. However, this finding might have reflected a pre-morbid attribute of ecstasy users, rather than a residual neurotoxic effect of the drug."

Ecstasy use combined with alcohol use

Findings indicate, "The number of adverse effects was associated positively with life-time exposure to ecstasy and negatively with period of abstinence from the drug. Adverse effects were more common among those who consumed ecstasy and alcohol concurrently, but were unrelated to other aspects of polydrug use. They were unaffected by whether the user took precautions when using the drug, and only weakly related to prior beliefs concerning the effects of ecstasy."


And in a German Study from 2003, researchers found that, at most, people may lose 4-5% of the serotonin in the brain and if users stopped using ecstasy for 2-3 months, serotonin levels would return to normal in the brain.


Here is a report from Rick Doblin, Ph.D. explaining how anti-drug campaign images have been altered to enhance the "effect" that ecstasy supposedly has on the brain. This was after a show aired on MTV claiming a young woman had holes in her brain following ecstasy use (note the photo above).


Some of this information reflects what is in the documentary, some is external information that I was able to find online. But basically it still boils down to the fact that both sides cannot prove definitively that they are right or that the other side it wrong. But it seems "pro-ecstasy" people tend to have an upper hand because many people know others who have used the drug and have turned out just fine. The problem with drug use seems to come along when people start mixing the ecstasy drug with other drugs (legal or illegal), or alcohol.

Another major risk comes with the fact that ecstasy is illegal and people that are making it can put anything into it, which means users never know what is in the drug. And like all drugs, there are side effects in some people, like nausea, fatigue, and depression.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying "everyone go an use this drug" I am actually pretty against drug use in all honesty. I just found it interesting that the campaign that has been so widely used is based on the type of experiments we talk about in class that are not quite as good as they should be, evidence is not quite factual and findings are misconstrued.

1 Comment

When haven't we taken snippets of facts and attempted to make cases for entire arguments out of them? It's just too common, and it's especially bad whenever this method hurts the credibility of something like anti-drug campaigns. Yes, drugs are bad, but if we just make up evidence in an attempt to prove it, it gives the users of dangerous drugs a reason to continue to use them. I think the reason this is commonplace has something to do with the power of the anecdote as we discussed in class, because unfortunately, not everyone can take a critical thinking class and fact check everything, and it's generally easier to just believe what you are told than to go out and try and prove it wrong.

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