Tag Archives: MDMA

Medical MDMA: Radical but reasonable

Recently, British regulators and lawmakers have started to acknowledge the health benefits of certain, previously banned, substances. Cannabidiol (one of the chemical constituents of cannabis but with virtually all of the stuff that gets you high – THC – removed) has been legal since 2017. As of the first of this month, doctors have been able to prescribe cannabis-based products for medical use.

These are moves in the right direction. Cannabidiol has been shown to have anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and anti-pain benefits. As the evidence currently stands, it seems to have less harmful side effects than many of the medicines already used to treat such problems (e.g mainstream anti-depressants and opiates).

Other, currently illegal drugs have started to show promise too – especially for helping people with mental health problems. Small doses of LSD and magic mushrooms appear to have very much the same effect as antidepressants, but with fewer side effects.

I’ve seen the drugs-related discussion in the Liberal Democrats largely centre on principles of bodily autonomy and whether the government has much business in policing what adults can choose to do with their time, money and bodies.

But in doing this we overlook a much more important reason to support the legislation and regulation of certain types of drugs. As a party serious about mental health and serious about evidence-based policy we should be at the forefront of the case for the medical applications of ecstasy and magic mushrooms. At the very least we should be pushing for more research into the effects.

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We should be sceptical of news, even when we agree

Some may have been surprised to read recently that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved three trials of MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder – the final phase of validation required to turn the “dance drug” into a legal medicine. Surprised, probably, because we have been repeatedly told for over two decades that MDMA is a very dangerous drug and that “there is no such thing as a ‘safe dose’”. Doctors would surely never give a dangerous drug with no safe dose to someone just to aid therapy, so what’s going on here?

It has been known since the 1970s that MDMA had some potential in psychotherapy, but almost all research and testing on the drug was halted when it was globally criminalised in the mid-1980s. But the story of how we got to a place where MDMA is “Class A” (the most dangerous drugs) is a sorry story of misleading experiments, politicised research, biased scientific endeavour, wilful distortion of facts, and – most importantly – the silence of the scientific and medical establishments in the face of obvious manipulation of the truth.

Nearly all research on MDMA since the 1980s has been funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) or its predecessors. Its very name – “drug abuse” – gives away the goal of the organisation, which is to provide the evidence backing for politicians to promote the “War on Drugs”. In that goal it has been hugely influential.

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Opinion: The Nutt affair – or, the thin line between evidence and policy

Firstly, a disclaimer: I am a scientist, who is also interested in governance and politics, so the following post may come across as somewhat heated. Apologies, but I do feel that the recent furore over Prof. David Nutt’s sacking as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) goes right to the heart of why I took up both science and politics as profession and interest respectively.

We begin with Prof. Nutt’s most recent criticism of the government’s drugs policy, which attracted headlines for claiming that alcohol, despite being legal and freely available, was more harmful than the Class A narcotic ecstasy (MDMA). At first sight this may seem like an outlandish statement to make, but the evidence, collated by Prof. Nutt, suggests otherwise; granted, the recent publication from Nutt’s The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) at King’s College London wasn’t peer-reviewed, but the methodologies used to calculate his ‘harm index’ were so, and published in one of the most respected medical journals, The Lancet in 2007 (the full article is behind a paywall, contact me if you want the pdf…). Just to repeat this – using what seems to me to be a robust method, taking into account everything from physical harm to the user to social harms at large, ecstasy does indeed seem to be less dangerous than alcohol, and it’s using this tried and tested method of enquiry that Nutt used to conclude that cannabis should remain a class C drug.

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