Taking Drugs: The Ecstasy Trial—Live On TV

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Would love for America to do something like this. Sadly, once again, the UK is leading the way. Last night was a first for UK TV when British journalist Jon Snow and Dr Christian Jessen presented part one of two shows that has them following volunteers as they take MDMA (that's the pure form of Molly), as part of a scientific study. The study has been 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. In addition to providing fundamental information on how MDMA affects the resting brain, results from the study might also inform future studies into whether the drug might be of potential clinical use, particularly in the therapeutic treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I find it odd that given the fact that Ecstasy has been used recreationally since it hit the rave scene in the late 1980s and in all those years, surprisingly few controlled, scientific studies have analyzed its effects upon humans.

Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial

The study, which is funded by Channel 4, has been subject to an ethical approval process for research involving healthy volunteers, who were all screened by medics and psychiatrists before giving their fully-informed consent to take part. Professors Nutt and Curran retain control over the research, which they plan to submit for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

David Nutt, the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, says:

"Nearly half a million people are believed to take ecstasy or MDMA every year in the UK, but there has been very little research into what it does in the brain. This is the first study that will involve brain scans of people taking MDMA while not performing any tasks. Imaging technology has improved enormously recently, so these experiments will give us a much clearer picture of the fundamental effects of MDMA on the resting brain than anyone has been able to get before."

"The context in which people will take MDMA in this study will be very different and much safer than the context in which people use it recreationally, with a controlled dose, a pure sample of the drug, absence of any other drugs or alcohol, and a doctor monitoring their health. This means the study won't tell us whether it's safe to take ecstasy in a club, but it will improve our understanding of how MDMA achieves its psychoactive effects. This will help people to make decisions about drug taking with more information about its potential harms and how to reduce the risks. It could also help inform discussions about potential clinical uses of the drug, which could be tested in later studies."

Unfortunately we're not going to be able to watch it here in the US, but I did come across this blog post by Jon Snow setting up the show and it's pretty damn entertaining. Have a read for yourself...

"Why I shall not be getting stoned."

I only ever had one acid trip.

I think I was about 22, and someone had spiked a delicious strawberry flan with LSD at a party in Oxford. I had two slices.

It wasn’t long before I felt the need to go home. Five of us had driven in a Mini, from London. We got back into the car and set off down the M40.

Almost immediately I seemed to be being assaulted by the white lines, flashing into my head. Then as I approached the first bridge over the road I became convinced that the car was too big to pass through it. I pulled over to the hard shoulder.

The one person, who proved not to have eaten of the flan, took over the driving. By the time we reached my flat above the drug dependents’ day centre where I worked, I was all over the place. We had deliberated on the journey and concluded that we were on a trip in which our tyres did not connect with any road surface.

I poured out glasses of orange juice and put Jaques Loussier on the turntable. The awfulness began to subside into something more pleasurable. When the music stopped the tireless trudge began again .. so the music resumed. The next morning as I descended to work I concluded that I had finally joined the vulnerable young people I was supposed to be counselling.

Tonight at 10.00pm in ‘Drugs Live’ I shall not be tripping. Instead I shall be anchoring a genuinely exciting Home Office approved trial of the drug MDMA – Ecstasy.

I have never tried E, but today 25 volunteers have agreed to take 83mg of the drug in hospital conditions and subject themselves to three hours of MRI scans. They are range of people from a Church of England woman vicar, to a former SAS man who now fights piracy in the Indian Ocean. The results are fascinating.

Professor David Nutt of Imperial College, the former Drugs Czar, says the trial has already yielded three dramatic scientific breakthroughs in the way Ecstasy works in the brain.

We explore the dangers and beneficial therapeutic potential. It’s eye opening stuff and feel honored to be part of it.

Oh, and yes, unfortunately I am not part of the trial – I shall not be on Ecstasy when you next hear me. But I shall be talking to someone who is.

Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial