Monday, October 08, 2012

I am worried about Evan Harris

You may recall that Dr Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, recently took part in the Channel Four programme Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial. As part of the programme he took ecstasy in what was presented as a piece of research into the drug's effects.

In today's Daily Telegraph there was a letter from the psychologist Professor Andy Parrott saying that he had taken part in the programme with the proviso that he would be given time to summarise the scientific evidence on the damaging effects of the drug on the human brain. In the event, this time was not given.

Professor Parrott went on to list some of the evidence he would have quoted:
Professor Leslie Iversen ... was correct in noting more than 60 previous studies on the effects of MDMA on brain activity. At Swansea University we have found reduced brain activity in MDMA users now free from drugs. Memory continues to be impaired for months and years afterwards. In very heavy users, “word recall” can be reduced to 50 per cent of normal levels. 
Researchers at Northumbria University have found reduced social intelligence, along with other mental or cognitive deficits. Other groups have found reduced “problem solving” abilities. 
At the University of East London and Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, its recreational use during pregnancy has been found to impair the development of the emergent babies. 
The mood gains of MDMA are short-lived, and followed by a longer period of negative moods – such as irritability, paranoia and depression. Hence the average weekly moods of MDMA users are significantly worse than non-users. 
At Swansea University we have been researching the damaging effects of recreational MDMA on the stress hormone cortisol. This neurohormone is increased by 800 per cent in dance clubbers, and is also markedly raised in abstinent users, helping to explain why recreational users suffer from impaired sleep and can develop clinical sleep apnoea. 
Finally, MDMA has weak hallucinogenic properties and can cause mental confusion. Hence it is unlikely that it could help resolve complex mental health problems.
I find all this interesting, because ecstasy is often presented as a benign drug. The evidence suggests that this is not so, though that does not prove that prohibition is necessarily the right way to go. Certainly, people had no difficulty of getting hold of ecstasy when it was in vogue, even though it was illegal to possess it.

I wrote a news story about this letter at work today. I wanted to use the headline "Parrott: I wish to register a complaint". However, as the good professor is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, I was dissuaded.

Meanwhile, if you see Evan Harris do make sure he is OK.

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1 comment:

Manfarang said...

I would image medications such as Valium probably have the same effects.