MDMA: significance of effects and future scientific investigation
MDMA has become one of the most popular, recreational drugs in the westernized world (Parrott et al, 2001). Although the use of MDMA has become increasingly widespread, there exists a serious debate amongst the psychiatric researchers as to whether MDMA (ecstasy) is a potentially dangerous and lethal drug to the individual using the substance (Mohamed et al, 2011; Parrott, 2013a, 2014). There is however an opposing argument amongst a group of researchers that MDMA has therapeutic benefits that can be used for self-healing, alleviating social anxiety and problems with social integration in a psychotherapeutic environment (Greer and Tolbert, 1986; Sessa and Nutt, 2007). The media and state politicians in western countries have however been pursuing a discourse of promoting MDMA as the same status as cocaine and heroin, with the same psychological and physiological properties; the reason is partially political with the populist stance of political parties to be seen as tough on drugs, often referred to as the ‘War on Drugs’ coined by President Nixon in 1971 (Smith, 2007). There is a divide therefore on the issue of MDMA as to whether this is a debate on the nature of the drug and its effects. Studies have been aimed at defining ecstasy from a premise of whether the effects are bad or good, studies leaning towards one of the observations typically rather than allowing for equal debate; the research can become political as opposed to unbiased scientific research, as Meyer’s (2013) argues research into ecstasy has come from its most vociferous detractors and the most ardent supporters. The studies of beneficial effects are nonetheless increasingly limited, with little opportunity to test this proposed hypothesis. For instance in the US, the DEA has categorized MDMA as a Schedule 1 drug, a drug that through its classification is considered incredibly dangerous with high federal penalties for the possession and supply of the drug. This has limited the progression of medical and psychiatric research into the properties of MDMA; particularly the positive properties which require further longitudinal studies into the effects of MDMA (Sessa and Nutt, 2007; Smith, 2007; Mithoefer, 2011; Caulkins et al, 2014).
The legacy of this prohibitionist movement of MDMA and many other illicit substances stems from the United States under President Nixon in 1971 who declared a ‘war on drugs’ (Guardian, 2015). Over £1 trillion has been spent across society in order to eradicate drugs but to no fruition; instead the criminal market and black market of drugs continues to grow and bring in billions of pounds for criminal syndicates and gangs (Caulkins et al, 2014). The case for decriminalization merits serious discussion and warrants as a viable option of UK drug policy in the future. The existing model of criminalization has clearly not worked to tackle the issue of substance abuse, with higher levels of demand and the recent growth of legal highs; the main proposition of criminalization is that it deters those though legal punitive policies, however, there is increasing evidence that criminalization has not deterred those from using illicit drugs (Ward, 2013). The case for legal measures has been applied throughout America and spread to the UK in a populist, conservative approach to drug use with criminalization measures and moral panics spread throughout the media portraying a society addicted to drugs (Sessa and Nutt, 2007). Education of drugs, rather than legality should be applied in understanding and tackling substance abuse (Ward, 2013). The historical conception of MDMA is therefore an important premise upon which to investigate the effects of MDMA on the individual and society across the past several decades. MDMA or more popularly known as ‘ecstasy’ began a huge up-rise in popular consumption during the 1980s and late 1990s in Britain. The drug grew in Texas with the late night-life, club scene but took of massively in Britain in the late 90s with the rave techno music scene establishing a large base of popularity with the young (Agar et al, 2004). The approach by the government in the US was followed thereafter in the UK. It is important to note that during the 80s and 90s Britain, particularly under Tony Blair's administration drew heavy influence from US policy in areas of criminological significance; Tony Blair wished to emulate the example of the New Democrats under Bill Clinton. The prohibitionist approach launched in the 1970s by President Nixon has continued to spread to UK drug policy. However, there exists a serious debate as to whether MDMA should be in the same classification as heroin and cocaine, two highly addictive drugs with observable negative and devastating effects on those who abuse the substances. Furthermore Professor David Nutt has argued against the hypocrisy of the criminalization of MDMA whilst the most dangerous drug, and costly drug, alcohol remains legal alongside tobacco (Sessa and Nutt, 2007). It is important to note that in the past MDMA was suggested and promoted as a form of therapeutic enhancement for therapists to offer and suggest for patients with unresolved social issues, relationship problems and social anxiety (Griffin, 2012). The original suggestion was made by Dr. Alexander T. Shulgin, who first synthesized the drug in 1965; therapists found that it proved an effective form of treatment for marriage, counselling, PTSD, stress, depression and schizophrenia (Griffin, 2012).
However despite the evidence from those in therapeutic practice of the benefits of ecstasy use as a treatment intervention there is evidence that appears to suggest that MDMA is associated with psychological mental health issues. The literature on MDMA and psychological deficits are linked to numerous psychiatric problems/ psychobiological problems including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, poor appetite and altered sleep (McCardle et al, 2004). These researchers have argued for health interventions by professionals, and a change in legal policy in promotion of illegalization of drugs. Furthermore there is increasing literature linking ecstasy to problems/ deficits with the central executive component of memory (Hanson et al, 2010). Some of those investigating MDMA neurological affects argue there is a case/ argument that MDMA can cause neurodegenerative problems with the brain and affect the psychobiology of the brain in a negative, damaging and dangerous way (Mohamed et al, 2011; Parrot, 2013a, 2014). However, the research must be viewed critically since it is currently unclear whether the patients have pre-existing mental health problems prior to ecstasy use; therefore no evidence of psychological damage can be attributed to MDMA use primarily (Guillot et al, 2007).
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- psychopharmacology drugs MDMA Decriminalization Alexander Syder Prohibition Ecstasy Therapeautic Dangerous case study