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David Nutt and Julia Manning: is it right to take ecstasy in a TV trial?

  1. source
    Professor David Nutt plans to test ecstasy live on Channel 4 to study its effects on the brain. Health campaigner Julia Manning says he risks glamorising the drug..

    Next week Professor David Nutt will test the effects of MDMA – otherwise known as ecstasy – on a number of volunteers live on TV in a research project funded by Channel 4. Julia Manning, chief executive of thinktank 2020Health believes the experiment is reckless. Oliver Laughland chairs.

    David Nutt: The project has two purposes. The first is to show the whole process – from design to analysis – of a scientific experiment being performed. The second is to do the first UK imaging study of the human brain with [the effects of] MDMA, using the latest technology. The drug has been around for 50 years, and been used massively by young people. It also has important therapeutic potential and it's necessary, from the perspective of a neuroscientist, to understand what it does in the brain.

    Julia Manning: It's reckless and pointless. We have a high regard for British scientific research. But I was alarmed when I heard about this. I don't believe it is a serious scientific study. It's been funded by Channel 4 because the Medical Research Council (MRC) and other authoritative bodies wouldn't fund it.

    DN: The research quality in this study is world-leading, using cutting-edge neuro-imaging technology and analysis. It will be published in the highest-quality journals. It's being funded by a television company not because other funders don't value the qualities of the research. When we put this study as part of a larger project to the MRC, it was scored very highly, but didn't fit in with the MRC's portfolio of addiction. As we know, MDMA is not addictive. I should be commended for finding a way of doing quality science, which otherwise wouldn't happen.

    JM: Simply because you're using high technology doesn't make it quality. I also dispute that MDMA isn't addictive, because it's an amphetamine and it's well-known that amphetamines are addictive. Ecstasy and other drugs are illegal for good reasons. Not just for scientific reasons – it's because of the social, economic and moral messages that it sends out as well.

    Oliver Laughland: Do you think the programme will send out the wrong moral message?

    DN: I don't think a scientific programme has any relationship to moral messages. What we're trying to do is understand the effects on the brain of a drug which, as everyone who uses it – by and large – tells us, produces an interesting and profound change in people's feelings in a positive direction. This science will give us an insight into a brain mechanism underpinning trust, empathy and love, and may lead us to new therapies. I am president of the British Neuroscience Association; I know what good neuroscience is, and this is cutting-edge.

    JM: It's publicity-seeking neuroscience. It's publicity-seeking neuroscience. The issue is that you're using an illegal drug to get publicity for your research and position, which is wanting to legalise access to [some] drugs. If you're really looking to do serious neuroscience, why aren't you looking for a cure for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's?

    DN: Sorry, Julia, but depression is still – as you may know from the recent report from the European Brain Council, of which I'm vice president – the largest cause of disability in Europe. We have many treatments that are not particularly effective. I'm looking to innovate. You should be endorsing this approach and encouraging the British pharmaceutical industry to support me. The reason it is not is because it is too terrified of the illegal status of these drugs – it believes, incorrectly, that working in this field would give it bad publicity. Your argument with me is essentially fuelling that prejudice.

    JM: That's absolutely not the case. The University of Birmingham is using a derivative of MDMA [in a modified form to examine its effects on fighting blood cancer cells]. It has got a licence from the Home Office. Have you got one?

    DN: Of course we have. Are you saying that fighting cancer is more important than depression? That it's all right to use illegal drugs for cancer but you can't use them for depression or trauma illness? The illegality is a separate dimension. There are drugs that are very useful but also illegal; drugs such as opiates, ketamine, amphetamines – all of which are prescribable for medical conditions. My view is clear. If this drug has therapeutic utility, doctors should be able to use it.

    JM: This sends the wrong message to the public and to young people because it implies that taking MDMA as it is currently constituted, could be valid for therapeutic use. The other examples that you cited have medically approved, trialled and tested forms in which the risks have been considered to be less than the benefits. That is the basis of all our medicine. There is no restriction on doing proper trials on drugs that are available as illegal forms. If you come up with a valid scientific study, the MRC and the Home Office will often give approval to looking into possible therapeutic uses for those drugs – often in different forms, not in their street form. The law is in place to protect and that is important. What this programme will do is glamorise the taking of MDMA.

    DN: This is something we thought about very carefully. I'm not in favour of taking any [illegal] drugs, which is why I'm concerned about the glamorising of the taking of alcohol in many aspects of our society. I am anti-drugs, and my entire research career has been directed towards understanding the harms of drugs so we can minimise them. I'm not in the business of glamorising anything. You will see when you watch the show that it's extremely rigorous. It will tell us where MDMA works in the brain, whether there is a biological relationship between taking MDMA and the three-day blues [come down] – which I can tell you now there isn't. It will make the data even stronger on how this drug might be useful in post-traumatic stress disorder.

    OL: Won't showing you taking this drug in a controlled environment go some way to demystifying its use? It's a fact of life for thousands of young people.

    JM: I don't think drugs are a fact of life. Only three million adults have tried drugs. Use of drugs is symptomatic of profound malaise; we are letting down young people and children if we imply taking drugs is something that could have value. It's not the drugs that are in question, it's the human, psychological and existential issues complicit in drug-taker behaviour that we should be raising.

    DN: These people [taking part in the experiment] are taking a chemical that's 99.9% pure ecstasy. This is not street drugs, this is the pure form that could be used therapeutically. I was working with the Home Office when people began to get concerned about the harms of ecstasy in the 1990s. Now I realise this was due to a misunderstanding of how to use the drug, and gross exaggeration by the media. I realise now that the drug is far less harmful then I believed at the time. Putting it into class A was wrong, it was politically motivated. It's been vilified.

    JM: We don't agree that you can look at a drug by itself. You have to consider the social, moral and economic implications of doing anything that suggests taking a banned substance is OK.

    Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Wednesday and Thursday next week

    Interview by Oliver Laughland, Friday 21st September 2012. The Guardian.co.uk.


  1. Routemaster Flash
    Good find. I have more respect for Nutt than ever but by God, this Manning woman is a prick and a half.
  2. nitehowler
    Ime a very unsociable person and find it hard to mix with people thus living a lonely life generally.

    Until the day i decided to try my first MDMA tablet. That day made me realize that my life had potential to change and yes i never felt so harmonious just with occasional use people around me thought i was compassionate and more loving and not the agro person i once was.

    I met lots of nice new friends , and met the love of my life whom i spend lots of fun time with.
    Then three years ago i was conned into helping a friend get some pills of mdma this eventuated into my worst nightmare in which i was separated from the ones i love on a two year jail sentence.

    The heart ache and pain my three daughters my imobile mother who could barely walk the distance to visit me and the love of my life struggling to pay solicitors bills and fight the crimes commission trying to legally steel the simple things in life i had worked and struggled to save for.
    The police threatened her with violence at gun point trying to get her to open the front door she asked if they had a search warrant and did not so continued to demand she open the door at gun point.
    They then held her against her will and her 14yr old son without reason or arrest.
    Ive been out now for 1yr. I have more hatred for law enforcement and government bodies and the ridiculous system that controls us.
    Being on parole i get random drug tests so a dirty could wind me up doing my last 12 months inside.

    I hope that one day i will be able to get back to what i consider a normal harmonious life a life without all the agro and tension where getting out of bed in the morning to enjoy a peaceful day can actually become a reality for me again.

    I try my best to be tolerable so the love of my life doesnt leave me.

    Can anyone recommend any medication that could be prescribed by my doctor that hasnt got a sedating effect?
    Is there anybody that has problems like this?

    Any help would be appreciated thanks guys.
  3. geezaman

    Nice to know that the head of the thinktank on health is open minded, open to learning, and generally hasn't got an axe to grind... or maybe she has learned and been open minded and that's her conclusion. *face palm*

    I've cherry picked that quote but from the whole interview this lady makes me angry, and im never angry.

    It seems Julia Manning is an optometrist or ophthalmologist having studied visual science at City University. She established the independent think tank 2020health.org in 2006 with the aim to improve individual health and create the conditions for a healthy society. The rest of 2020health seem a healthy mix though.

    Interestingly she doesn't have her own wiki... which to Snufkin at least seems a touch sinister for someone in the public eye...
  4. nitehowler
    She has been paid for her decision from a government body that has sacked its well educated professional advisers for realistic proven facts.She is only protecting her job at the expense of public health and safety.

    She is not out to save lives but to put innocent people in jepody.
    In the job that she has been commissioned to do you would think that public safety and harm reduction would be her main agenda so she should support these studies.
  5. nitehowler
    It is a proven fact that PROFFESSOR DAVID NUTT was sacked for his professional opinion that MDMA was less harmful than peanut butter.
    So anybody that has been employed by government bodies can not be trusted to give an honest opinion if it is not in the best interest of the Government , consequences being loss of job and public defamation.
  6. Phenoxide
    What are you talking about? David Nutt made the comparison between MDMA use and horse riding, not to peanut butter. It's also certainly not a proven fact that the the content of the comment was the reason for his removal from his position as chair of the ACMD. While we could all speculate on the reasons for his removal from this advisory post the publicly aknowledged rationale for his removal was that his use of the media to lobby against current drug policy was not compatible with an advisory role.

    The suggestion that Julia Manning is paid by the government and therefore deliberately misrepresents her recommendations and views in order to tow the government line borders on libel unless you have something more substantial than general cynicism to suggest this to be the case. She's the leader of an independent non-government organization and a columnist for the Daily Mail. She certainly has views that may not be compatible with those of many here but that doesn't make her corrupt.
  7. Routemaster Flash
    I have no idea where you got this notion, but it's pretty funny.

    Nutt never said ecstasy was perfectly harmless, because that would be blatantly untrue. What he did was put the risk in context by comparing to another, legal, recreational activity (horse riding).

    Edit: my bad, he did mention peanuts, but in the context of the risk of a random person having a severe allergic reaction, which isn't quite the same thing as "harmfulness".
  8. GeographyGeography
    Seriously, this is a textbook example of exactly what is wrong with our world today specifically concerning drug legislation. Why is an ophthamologist and 'health campaigner' even arguing with a psychiatrist/psychopharmacologist about the action of a drug on the brain?? Since she is at least a doctor (unlike most politicians!) this isn't that heinous,

    yet again and again Ms. Manning's arguments seemingly hinge in one way or another on nebulous global good/bad judgements about 'drug-seeking attitudes' being destructive to society. While social sciences certainly have their place, this kind of speculation is hardly in the same realm as a drug study (even a small one)

    Supporting the restriction of a doctor from a controlled experiment with the statement "MDMA is an amphetamine, and amphetamines are addictive" is ridiculous. "Often in different forms, not in their street form" is another gem. In my mind, these kind of statements call into doubt Ms. Manning's professional understanding of the very thing she is 'campaigning' against.

    She may have a good reputation, but it distresses me greatly that this woman seems to have no qualms with using a phrase like 'moral message' in her rebuttal on a televised debate- against a fellow medical doctor- on the benefits and dangers of a psychoactive molecule.

    What is her motivation for supposedly 'keeping children away from harmful influences?' Even studies that are disreputably carried out warrant reading. The monopolization of 'good science' by million dollar pharmaceutical laboratories is a very serious issue that is already happening on a large scale, but I digress.

    I admit the doctor doesn't exactly seem the most scrupulous fellow...
  9. yehoshua

    This wouldn't actually be saying that it's perfectly harmless. In fact, it seems like an excellent comparison. Many people have adverse reactions to peanut butter. For some, ingesting microscopic amounts can be life threatening. I would say peanut butter is much more harmful to society than ecstasy... and the truth is, whenever we try a new food we are taking the risk that we will have an allergic reaction, but its something that we overlook, because 'food' can't be considered in the same way as 'drugs'... but really, is there any difference? They're both indulgences, many drugs come from edible plants, some foods, particularly superfoods, have psychoactive effects such as mood lift or stimulant effects (chocolate, coffee, maca, etc), not to mention the huge range of medicinal herbs. My point is, we really need to rethink the way we consider drug use, and its place within our society, and where we draw the line. Should there even be a line?
  10. Routemaster Flash
    OK, I've found a source for this peanut thing:

    from http://www.forbes.com/sites/trevorb...er-to-shoot-up-or-smoke-pot-than-have-a-shot/

    So he's referring to the fact that a small minority of people have a potentially dangerous allergy to peanuts, and that if a person's allergy status is unknown to you, it could be very dangerous for you to give them a peanut (I assume most people with a severe allergy know about it, so you'd have to 'spike' them with a peanut, somehow).

    Which is not the same thing as saying "peanuts are more harmful than ecstasy", because the vast majority of people can eat peanuts without getting ill. But now I see where you got the idea.
  11. Routemaster Flash
    I still don't think it's a particularly valid comparison, if we're talking about the "harmfulness" - as opposed to one-off risk to any given individual - of peanut butter compared to ecstasy. As far as overall "harm to society" goes - well peanut butter is pretty fatty I guess, is that what you mean? It's usually known when someone has severe allergies from a young age and all products that could possibly have been contaminated with peanuts are clearly labelled, so while there are still isolated deaths it's not a common occurrence.
  12. Maxfrombx
    She doesn't say that research on MDMA should not take place because it is addictive, she was correcting him saying that as an amphetamine it can be addictive. And we all know that there're some case of MDMA addiction.

    I don't see why she is so hated here. The guy makes very valid points, but why doing this research on TV? It seems to me that it is some kind of voyeurism, and I agree with her, the original project will be diverted by lots of people who will take some MDMA without any medical supervision and who don't know what they are taking.

    Of course I agree on research on therapeutic possibilities MDMA (and LSD, psylocybin, etc). This should just not take place in front of a TV camera.
  13. Routemaster Flash
    And in doing so, reveals her unsurprising ignorance of drugs.

    Just because ecstasy belongs to the amphetamine class of compounds that does not mean it inherits all the properties of amphetamine itself. In fact the two drugs have quite different pharmacological profiles. DOM is also technically an amphetamine but it isn't even a stimulant, it's a psychedelic.

    There might be a few isolated cases but it's pretty rare. Ecstasy is generally not regarded as being addictive, in contrast to amphetamine or methamphetamine. If drugs were legally classified according mainly to their potential for causing addiction then alcohol, tobacco and probably caffeine would be illegal and ecstasy wouldn't, or at least would be in a much lower category than the first two.

    It's because she's rejecting all the evidence pointing to how certain drugs are much less harmful than is implied by draconian legislation, and saying basically "Well of course ecstasy is bad for you, otherwise why would it be illegal?". It simply begs the question of why it's illegal in the first place.

    I haven't watched the programme although I've read some not very favourable reviews. I think the ostensible reason is to raise awareness about the possible therapeutic use of drugs that are currently illegal - and I agree with you that more research should be done, but this is currently made very difficult by the law.

    Having said that, the UK's Channel 4 is well known for tackling 'controversial' subjects in a sensationalist way simply because people have a voyeuristic streak and like to watch it, so really it boils down to viewing figures.
  14. Maxfrombx
    I agree with your arguments, exept the end. Actually, the real debate should be about showing this on TV or not.
    I understand your point ("raising public awareness"), but I think that actually it can have the opposite effect.
    I can really picture tons of depressed people, thinking they have nothing to lose, watching the show, and ending up taking XTC tabs without really knowing what they're doing, and eventually having bad trips. A raise of the ER admissions for XTC consumption, and finally, a government that decide to strenghen the law and cut all permissions for researches on therapeutic use of MDMA (or psylocybin, as I saw it was used to help cancerous patients)

    Finally, I obviously won't see the show as I'm in France, but what will be shown? People tripping, but what about the long-term outcome? Will they talk about it also?
  15. Routemaster Flash
    I think that's a rather far-fetched scenario to be honest.

    Ecstasy doesn't really cause "bad trips" as such, and I think it's unlikely that many people who don't already take the drug are going to start taking it because of this programme. And even if some depressed people did decide to take ecstasy on a whim, maybe it could even do them some good, who knows?

    I doubt it's going to lead to a big spike in drug-related hospital admissions, at any rate.
  16. Maxfrombx
    Considering the quality of pills nowadays, I think that it's a possibility.

    I tend to think the opposite. Many people who would have been given the occasion and who would have normally refused to take the drug will say "It's no big deal, it's the same stuff as in this reality show on the TV."

    I'm not sure if you realize how much people are imitating what they see on TV. For many, it's their reference point. Many people see something on TV, and if they can imitate it, they do it rightaway.

    Anyway, I'm still asking myself the question of if it will be only people tripping, or if there will be a follow-up showing them weeks after the experience.
  17. Routemaster Flash
  18. Routemaster Flash
    It wasn't a "reality show", but (ostensibly at least) an investigative documentary.

    And if it shows Nutt having an interesting, mind-expanding and perhaps even enjoyable experience, is that so terrible? Ecstasy is taken by millions of people every weekend who have a great time and manage not to hospitalize themselves.
  19. Maxfrombx
    OKOK, I'm just afraid of the trivialization of taking MDMA.

    I'm not in favor of legalization (and it's another debate), I'm in favor of some sort of "license to get high". You follow an educational program about harm-reduction, etc, pass some psychological test and you are given the right to experiment with a given drug in its pure form.

    Pure legalization would only lead to anarchic consumptions and health problems, like it is the case with alcohol and tobacco, which are legalized, and on which there are quality controls (yet, for example, alcohol kills the equivalent of a commercial jet crash everyday only in France)

    EDIT: I'm going to open a thread about this idea of "license to get high" thing, to get opinions.
  20. nitehowler
    Every adult should have the freedom to take MDMA whenever one pleases as long as its not at work or driving machinery .

    The thought of having a license to get high could be a way of discriminating against many.

    In Australia the government discriminates against many indigenous communities by banning them from drinking alcohol creating large black market selling of alcohol and illicit substances.

    Its hard to believe that Australia a country so set on enforcing discrimination laws and equal opportunity legislation can itself discriminate and jail people it doesnt like.
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