CCLE Entheogen and Drug Policy Project
Results Retracted On Ecstasy
CCLE is pleased to see that Dr. Ricaurte has admitted a major
error in his government-sponsored studies on the dangers of MDMA
(he used the wrong drug). Criminal drug prohibition predisposes
government-funded research to show harms associated with
various illegal drugs, and also predisposes research
funded by drug policy reform groups to show little if any harm,
and perhaps some benefit. Thus, because drug prohibition
necessarily politicizes all research concerning prohibited drugs,
CCLE is concerned that similar errors in the future are not only
inevitable, they are encouraged.
a world that respects
cognitive liberty will scientific findings concerning the
potential harms and benefits of psychoactive drugs be
depoliticized. The result will be more accurate science, because
the major incentive to skew results for political purposes will be
Retracted On Ecstasy Study
By Rick Weiss © Washington Post Saturday, September 6, 2003;
at Johns Hopkins University who last year published a frightening
and controversial report suggesting that a single evening's use of
the illicit drug ecstasy could cause permanent brain damage and
Parkinson's disease are retracting their research in its entirety,
saying the drug they used in their experiments was not ecstasy after
retraction, to be published in next Friday's issue of the journal
Science, has reignited a smoldering and sometimes angry debate
over the risks and benefits of the drug, also known as MDMA.
The drug is
popular at all-night raves and other venues for its ability to
reduce inhibitions and induce expansive feelings of
open-heartedness. But some studies have indicated that the drug can
at least temporarily damage neurons that use the mood-altering brain
chemical serotonin. Some users also have spiked fevers, which rarely
have proven fatal.
research, involving monkeys and baboons, purported to show that
three modest doses of ecstasy -- the amount a person might take in a
one-night rave -- could cause serious damage to another part of the
brain: neurons that use the brain chemical dopamine.
Two of 10
animals died quickly after their second or third dose of the drug,
and two others were too sick to take the third dose. Six weeks
later, dopamine levels in the surviving animals were still down 65
percent. That led Hopkins team leader George Ricaurte and his
colleagues to conclude that users were playing Russian roulette with
ecstasy's therapeutic potential, including a number of scientists
and doctors who believe it may be useful in treating post-traumatic
stress disorder or other psychiatric conditions, criticized the
study. They noted that the drug was given in higher doses than
people commonly take and was administered by injection, not by
mouth. They wondered why large numbers of users were not dying or
growing deathly ill from the drug, as the animals did, and why no
previous link had been made between ecstasy and Parkinson's despite
decades of use and a large number of studies.
to at least some of those questions became clear with the
retraction, which is being released by Science on Sunday evening but
was obtained independently by
The Washington Post. Because of a mislabeling of vials, the
scientists wrote, all but one of the animals were injected not with
ecstasy but with methamphetamine, or "speed" -- a drug known to
damage the dopamine system.
researchers said they discovered the mistake when follow-up tests
gave conflicting results, and they offered evidence that the tubes
were mislabeled by the supplier, identified by sources as Research
Triangle Institute of North Carolina. A spokesman for the company
said last night that he did not know whether the company had erred.
has renewed charges that government-funded scientists, and Ricaurte
in particular, have been biased in their assessment of ecstasy's
risks and potential benefits.
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a
Sarasota, Fla.-based group that funds studies on therapeutic uses of
mind-altering drugs and is seeking permission to conduct human tests
of MDMA, said the evidence of serotonin system damage is weak.
and best-controlled study of the effect of MDMA on serotonin showed
no long-term effects in former users and minimal to no effects in
current users," he said.
one of the Hopkins scientists, said she regretted the role the false
results may have played in a debate going on last year in Congress
and within the Drug Enforcement Administration over how to deal with
personally terrible," she said. "You spend a lot of time trying to
get things right, not only for the congressional record but for
other scientists around the country who are basing new hypotheses on
your work and are writing grant proposals to study this."
But she and
Ricaurte emphasized last night that the retraction had not changed
their feelings about the danger of taking ecstasy.
wouldn't recommend it to anybody," McCann said.
CCLE Entheogen and Drug Policy Project
CCLE Ask Dr. Shulgin Online
CCLE Drug Law Library - MDMA