Ecstasy poses serious risks

Sarah Tsou

I would like to clear up some inaccuracies that accompanied Alex Fak’s Oct. 4 column, “‘E-asy’ does it.” In this column, I believe Fak misleads readers by withholding information, misrepresenting research, and committing several logical errors.

First, Fak neglects to mention that the study he refers to was actually dismissed by three other Ecstasy experts within the same publication of The Psychologist. This certainly would have been helpful in evaluating the validity of the study, which was one of his primary sources of evidence.

Also, Fak seems to have a naive and incomplete understanding of scientific research. This is especially apparent in his attack on the recently published Johns Hopkins study on the effects of MDMA on dopamine-producing neurons in non-human primates. First, he questions their results because of the way the test-animals were injected with the drug rather than given it orally. If he had read the study more closely, he might have noticed that the researchers clearly state that oral administration might offer some protection, but it would be insignificant in light of the enormous extent of damage found.

Second, he faults the researchers for using doses higher in MDMA than one dose, but in fact they never claimed to use the equivalent of a single dose. They were measuring the effect that a “recreational dose” (i.e. two or three pills in one night) would have. Certainly, enough people have taken similar doses for these results to be pertinent.

Most disturbing is Fak’s conclusion that because “a fifth of the monkeys died outright,” these results should not be applied to humans since “not one out of five Ecstasy users drops dead.” In reality, two out of 15 animals died from a condition called “malignant hyperthermia.” This is very similar to the overheating widely known as a danger of Ecstasy use. In essence, he used a result that supports that Ecstasy is harmful to deny that it is.

This is not where the logical blunders end. Fak claims that of those Ecstasy users in the ER, it is “unclear how many are there due to MDMA and how many due to fatigue, overheating on packed dance floors, poor nutrition, or accidents.” Who would say that these “alternative” explanations could not also be attributed to Ecstasy use? They are in fact different effects of the same cause. This is no proof that Ecstasy does not cause death.

Then there is Fak’s rather alarming suggestion that health officials should stop warning people of the potentially harmful effects of Ecstasy. In particular, he criticizes the practice of advising Ecstasy users to drink water by citing a few cases of death by water overdose. Consider this: doctors warn people who eat diets high in saturated fat to either change their diets or exercise frequently. If a few people happen to exercise to the point where they died of exhaustion, would this be a reason for doctors to stop suggesting exercise? I don’t think so.

His final and most inappropriate leap of logic? The argument that once people are convinced that Ecstasy is “dread,” that they will move on to other drugs that have been “proven to kill.” The assumption is that once these people are convinced that their drug choice is harmful, they will stop doing it and look for an alternative. So why would they then turn to something else that has been proven to cause harm? Wouldn’t the logical answer be that they would choose another ambiguous drug? Fak’s argument here is clearly constructed to set off false alarms rather than to propose a likely course of events.

No one is saying that the body of Ecstasy research is conclusive. Fak does point out some methodological problems that could lead to less than completely accurate results. However, showing that a given study is not perfectly constructed is never a sufficient reason to ignore its results. I am not sure why, but Fak seems to want to deny that Ecstasy is harmful simply because it has not been 100 percent proven so. This is both unreasonable and irresponsible. The more sensible choice would be for individuals to carefully evaluate the available information, weigh the pros and cons, and make an informed, personal decision.

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