By Alfa · Jan 2, 2005 ·
  1. Alfa

    AMERICAN scientists are investigating whether ecstasy, the illegal drug, can be used to ease the anxiety of dying cancer patients.

    The public health agency in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has approved a pilot study into the recreational hallucinogen most commonly taken by clubbers.

    Scientists are examining whether it can help terminally-ill patients lessen their fears, quell thoughts of suicide and make it easier for them to deal with loved ones. It is hoped the pilot will offer doctors another option for treating terminally ill patients in their final days.

    John Halpern, the Harvard research psychiatrist leading the study, said:

    "End-of-life issues are very important and are getting more and more attention, and yet there are very few options for patients who are facing death."

    The four-month project is expected to begin early next spring and will test the drug's effects on 12 cancer patients from the Lahey Clinic Medical Centre in the Boston area.

    The research is being sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps), a non-profit group that plans to raise nearly #200,000 in funding. Maps website endorsed the study's approval by saying "the longest day of winter has passed, and maybe so has the decades-long era of resistance to psychedelic research".

    The FDA would not comment, but this will be the organisation's second study using ecstasy this year. South Carolina researchers are examining the effects of the drug on 20 patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

    Ecstasy, known scientifically as MDMA -- methylenedioxymetham - phetamine

    -- is a chemical cousin of methamphetamine and typically induces feelings of euphoria, increased energy and sexual arousal.

    However, the drug also suppresses appetite, thirst and the need to sleep, and in high doses can sharply increase body temperature, leading to kidney and heart failure, and death.

    Dr Halpern said that some hallucinogenic drugs, when used properly, could have medical benefits. He explained that unlike LSD, ecstasy was "ego-friendly" and unlike some pain medications it did not oversedate people and make them foggy and unsteady.

    He said the drug could cut stress and increase empathy and there was anecdotal evidence that it had provided benefits for dying cancer patients.

    The doctor said: "I'm hoping that we can find something that can be of use for people in their remaining days of life."

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