Study subjects get free cocaine
Sue MontgomeryCanWest News Service
Monday, September 17, 2007
In an unusual McGill University study, human subjects are being given cocaine so researchers can chart the effects of the highly addictive drug on the brain with hopes of finding ways to curb strong cravings.
The study -- which at first glance may raise some eyebrows -- was deemed the best in a competition among about 50 applicants for funding in the medical category of research related to brain behaviour.
Its author, Marco Leyton, a professor in the university's psychology department, said about 35 per cent of people who use cocaine will become addicted and end up with serious problem.
"I tell my students that if Cuisinart comes out with a new food processor and only a third of users lost fingers while the remaining 70 per cent were satisfied, would that be reasonable?" Leyton said Sunday in an interview.
While giving users free drugs may be seen by some as unethical, Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said it could also be seen as unethical if such research isn't done.
"If you can't do the research, you can't help the people with addictions." Somerville has sat on several ethics committees and said rules for such projects are strict. For example, participants have to be consenting adults, must have used the drug previously and researchers can't enlist more subjects than they need.
The ongoing study began five years ago and is to continue for another five with $120,000 annual funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the blessing of McGill University Health Centre's ethics board.
Subjects are paid minimum wage for their time and their consumption is tightly controlled.
"Participants are closely monitored and stay overnight for observation with nurses and physicians on hand," Leyton said. "We don't just give them the cocaine and say: 'OK, away you go.' "
© The Calgary Herald 2007