September 27, 2002
3:32 AM   Subscribe

If you still go to raves, think twice before popping that pill this weekend. A new study by JHU suggests that the long-term effects of esctasy could lead to conditions similar to Parkinson's. [related: Erowid's MDMA vault]
posted by hobbes (37 comments total)

Basically I think taking any kind of drug (ecstacy, cocain, aspirin, alcohol, whatever) regularly for a long period will have some kind of effect on the body.

If you're willing to take the risk then hey, it's your body.
posted by PenDevil at 3:47 AM on September 27, 2002

Hey relax... I've been, like, taking eccies for, like, three years and, um, ya know, it hasn't, like, affected me at all.
posted by funkuncle at 3:50 AM on September 27, 2002

Excuse my lack of spelling and grammar... it's the... um.. the.. you know.
posted by PenDevil at 4:04 AM on September 27, 2002

I prefer this story:

me too!
posted by donkeyschlong at 4:10 AM on September 27, 2002

Drugs aren't in general good for you, but they've got to stop releasing flawed data, trials and tests. They gave spider monkeys 2-3 sequential doses of ecstasy, which according to the article a typical amount for your average teenage rave goer. The problem I see with this is that your average spider monkey weighs 12 to 16 pounds, a full 7 to 15 times less than your average raver.

If we gave the spider monkey a half dozen Krispy Kreme donuts what would the effect be? Probably diabetic coma? Does that mean that Richard Simmons should come out and say that Krispy Kreme donuts will cause diabetic coma? There's some truth to the statement that Krispy Kreme donuts aren't good for you, but if those statistics were used as propaganda against them people would immediately shout out an objection.

Reefer Madness style indoctrination is not helpful unless you're trying to steel a group that's already against the vice (whether its marijuana, alcohol, ecstasy or krispy kreme donuts). The users will point out that the statistics are lies, so this particular vice is perfectly safe.
posted by substrate at 5:27 AM on September 27, 2002

Well thanks to Google News I notice that is spinning the story as ONE NIGHT'S ECSTASY USE CAN CAUSE BRAIN DAMAGE!!!

It's like Russian Roulette!

Also interesting is that a lead doctor researching Parkinson's has said ecstasy "can now be added to the list of possible culprits that also includes viruses, environmental toxins and a genetic predisposition to the disease."
posted by jeremias at 5:46 AM on September 27, 2002

I wish the article had specified what was meant by a "dose", or that it had provided a link to the source research (this is the web, after all!). I am also curious how this relates to earlier findings suggesting that taking a dose of an SSRI 2-3 hours after the MDMA can prevent neurotoxicity.

As far as this quote: "two or three sequential doses of the drug—the amount typically taken by young adults at all-night 'raves'" - that's pretty sad, if it's true.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2002

The magazine's "taster" of its Ecstasy article [PDF available]. The basic argument seems to be one between psychiatry and psychology, e.g. physical vs. mental effects.

The 1999 study with the monkeys isn't the topic of this article, just one of its many referential studies; and by the way, substrate, the dosage was prorated based on weight -- something that is also done studying human use.
posted by dhartung at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2002

I take exception to your headline for this thread... "If you still go to raves", etc...

Going to a rave does not necessarily imply drug use. It is uncommon to see 1/3rd of people at some given location doing drugs - hence, yes, there is probably uncommonly high drug use at some (but not all) raves.

I've never been to a rave where I thought the majority of people were doing drugs...

While I don't do any drugs myself, and I haven't been to a rave or rave-like party in years, I still find it irritating that people perpetuate a stereotype, and other people, in addition to the media, seem to accept it 100% without question.

Most ravers I know aren't into the drugs -- they like the music.

Yeah, there's plenty of druggies in the "scene". There's plenty of them at rock shows and hippy-rock shows and metal shows and hip hop shows too. They don't constitute the entire, or even the majority of, the body.
posted by twiggy at 7:49 AM on September 27, 2002

Most ravers I know aren't into the drugs -- they like the music.

Most ravers I know don't even realize that raves *have* music.
posted by oissubke at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2002

Phenethylamines are often suspected of causing neurological damage, which isn't surprising for something that jacks up your neurotransmitter levels so intensely. In MDMA's case, a near complete depletion of serotonin after it wears off seems likely to cause damage. There have been studies suggesting that if you take a reuptake inhibitor along with or shortly after MDMA, you can prevent serotonin from dropping to toxic levels and avoid (some) of the damage. So if you've just got to do the e-thing, take some Prozac or at least some St. John's wort along with or a few hours after. St. John's might be a better choice, since it appears to be a multiple neurotransmitter reuptake inhibitor, whereas Prozac is more specific to serotonin. St. John's wort is available in the US just about anywhere you buy vitamins.
posted by gregor-e at 8:13 AM on September 27, 2002

all things in moderation.

why are we allowing scientists to feed esctasy to spider monkey? perfectly good pills gone to waste.

the Feds are cracking down on drug use (bwahahaha!) at raves. many my co-workers smoke pot. when will the government step in to protect me from emplyment?
posted by tolkhan at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2002

i fucking suck at spelling and grammar today
posted by tolkhan at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2002

*shrug* I went to raves a lot a few years ago and never did drugs. On the other hand, during that same period, I photographed a lot of rock shows. At most of them, I saw kids popping various things or lighting up various things directly in front of my video and still camera-festooned harness. At one show, a group of three boys that were maybe 14 (I was 18 at the time -- and yes, they were boys, as hard as they tried to be older) lit up a crack pipe not three feet from me. I *never* saw that at a rave -- the worst I saw was some happy hippy people passing a joint, and heck, you can see that anywhere.

MDMA use was more widespread in my college dorm than at any rave I've ever been to, and it caused more problems there than roofies as far as date rape and problematic sex went. If you ask me, perceptions are kind of screwed up about this drug, and teens are going to do what they want until they have a real good reason not to.
posted by SpecialK at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2002

Does anyone know if LSD still shredz your chromosomes? Cuz Sean Lennon looks (relatively) normal to me. [Discuss]
Also, a friend of my sister's next door nighbor told me that her foster son heard at school that consuming alcohol might be bad for your liver. What's up with that?
posted by BentPenguin at 8:57 AM on September 27, 2002

That's why I stick with smack.
posted by spilon at 9:01 AM on September 27, 2002

The Wired article raises some interesting counterpoints. Last time I checked, most ecstasy users didn't inject the drug. Their also seems to be some controversy about whether are not any neurons were actually damaged in the study, even by the monkeys killed.

Poor monkeys.. with all the willing human volunteers, you'd think murder like this wouldn't be necessary. The fact that 20% of them died in the study just proves how flawed the study is. I, um, know, people who have taken similar dosages over similar periods of time, if not more, and far less than 20% of them (well, 0% actually) kicked the bucket.

Besides which, the timing and all seems very suspicious what with the upcoming legislation on the awesomely-titled RAVE Act.
posted by dvdgee at 9:55 AM on September 27, 2002

twiggy: Your sensitivity to the issue is annoying. Get over the whole stereotype thing. Dead Heads have been "stereotyped" for decades... and for good reason. But I also never hear them whine about it. Nobody is stupid enough to believe that EVERYBODY at a rave is on ecstasy. So you don't need to bother reminding us like you're some kind of spokesperson, one that is more enlightened because of your direct experiences.

SpecialK's argument for how much worse drug use is at other kinds of music shows is equally annoying. You saw it with your own eyes, so it must be true all over. It's no better or worse than twiggy getting all bent out of shape at the reverse.

Fact of the matter is, kids do drugs... always have, always will. And they all can cause damage in one form or another. So you can debate 'til you're blue in the face about how accurate and reliable this study is and that study this. It's only a matter of time before the truth comes out. There are no free lunches.

I'll be waiting for the one person to come out with, "well my friend smoked crack for 18 years and he's fine... SO THERE"!
posted by Witty at 10:05 AM on September 27, 2002

I did Special K once. Really fucking strange.
posted by dydecker at 10:28 AM on September 27, 2002

What is remarkable about this study that very few of the articles being published talks about, is the HUGE doses they gave these monkeys. 300mg, 3x a day is far and beyond what humans take. The average ORAL dose is 150-200mg for the entire evening. Injecting that kind of dose, a single time, would stop many people's hearts. In the study, 1 in 5 monkeys died immediately after recieving the dose! Clearly 1 in 5 MDMA users do not drop dead on the spot.

Its very dangerous to draw any kind of conclusions about the health risks of MDMA from a study such as this.

Check out the CNN Article for a bit more of an in-depth report of this study.
posted by bug138 at 10:42 AM on September 27, 2002

bug138, you're completely missing the point of such a study. LD50 is the term for a lethal dose that kills 50% of the animal population, and is a standard way of determining substance toxicity, with standard factors used to extrapolate a toxic dose for a human. Clearly, these experiments were conducted in the same manner as LD50 experiments. Pesticides are required to have LD50 toxicity values, yet nobody seems to want to know the toxicity of something they put in their mouth? That's fucking nuts. And I'm no prude.
posted by dhartung at 11:16 AM on September 27, 2002

Yeah, there's plenty of druggies in the "scene". There's plenty of them at rock shows and hippy-rock shows and metal shows and hip hop shows too. They don't constitute the entire, or even the majority of, the body.

I've never been to a rave, but I've been to plenty of Phish shows and I can say with great confidence that the majority of the audience at a typical Phish show is either high, drunk, tripping or some combination of the three. It just goes with the territory.
posted by boltman at 12:02 PM on September 27, 2002

Fact of the matter is, kids do drugs... always have, always will. And they all can cause damage in one form or another. So you can debate 'til you're blue in the face about how accurate and reliable this study is and that study this. It's only a matter of time before the truth comes out. There are no free lunches. emphases mine

Sounds like you already have the truth, "Witty". Call off the studies!
posted by goethean at 12:03 PM on September 27, 2002

Alpha-lipoic acid prevents 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA)-induced neurotoxicity.

Repeated administration of the metabolic antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid (100 mg/kg, i.p., b.i.d. for 2 consecutive days) 30 min prior to MDMA did not prevent the acute hyperthermia induced by the drug; however, it fully prevented the serotonergic deficits and the changes in the glial response induced by MDMA.

Story about New Scientist review of MDMA research:

In April, New Scientist journal, a United Kingdom-based science and technology magazine, examined Ecstasy research projects. The magazine published a scathing editorial: "Our investigation suggests the experiments are so irretrievably flawed that the scientific community risks hemorrhaging credibility if it continues to let them inform public policy."

The plot thickens...
posted by botono9 at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2002

Actually, dhartung, the LD50 of MDMA was already well established far before this study was conducted. The point of this study was not at all to investigate the LD50 in baboons or spider monkeys.

Nobody is trying to argue that MDMA is completely benign. However, many people believe that the benefits of MDMA as a theraputic aid.

From the Science article (acct req):
The prevailing view is that the popular recreational drug ()3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine
(MDMA, or “ecstasy”) is a selective serotonin neurotoxin
in animals and possibly in humans. Nonhuman primates exposed to
several sequential doses of MDMA, a regimen modeled after one used by
humans, developed severe brain dopaminergic neurotoxicity, in addition to less
pronounced serotonergic neurotoxicity. MDMA neurotoxicity was associated
with increased vulnerability to motor dysfunction secondary to dopamine
depletion. These results have implications for mechanisms of MDMA neurotoxicity
and suggest that recreational MDMA users may unwittingly be putting
themselves at risk, either as young adults or later in life, for developing neuropsychiatric
disorders related to brain dopamine and/or serotonin de?ciency.
My issue with this study is that their dosing model has very little to do with actual human consumption, something that the study asserts to be true.
posted by bug138 at 12:44 PM on September 27, 2002

New Scientist journal, a United Kingdom-based science and technology magazine, examined Ecstasy research projects. The magazine published a scathing editorial.

The *New Scientist* of all magazines is complaining about credibility?

I think I remember that issue. That scathing editorial was right between their lavish praise of Alex Chiu and the Time Cube Guy.
posted by oissubke at 12:53 PM on September 27, 2002

Below is the press release from MAPS relating some of the serious criticism of this latest flawed study. (apologies for size, there is no web link yet for this) There are other very serious flaws and misrepresentations of data being noted by other concerned scientists on some lists I'm on - I hope to have some links to post later. I hope also to have a link for the full text (pdf) from Science (login/$ req.)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Rick Doblin (617) 484-8711 September 26, 2002 Tony Newman (510) 812-3126

Scientists Sharply Criticize Conclusions of New MDMA (Ecstasy) Report

Test Monkeys Injected With Deadly Doses of Drug; Study Did Not Simulate Human Use

Drug Education Experts Warn: Hyperbole Discredits Message

Scientists have expressed strong criticism of a new report about MDMA to be published in the journal Science on September 27. The primate study, by Dr. George Ricaurte and colleagues, reports that MDMA - or Ecstasy - damages dopamine neurons in the brain, and suggests that such damage indicates that MDMA may cause Parkinson's disease in humans.

Critics, pointing to questionable assumptions in Dr. Ricaurte's report, say it suggests no such thing. And they express concern about the hysteria often generated by exaggerated estimates of drug-related harms - which, they say, can hinder the efforts of parents and teachers to establish open, honest dialogue with young people about drug use.

Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, Ellis Professor of Neurology, University of South Florida, and an expert in Parkinson's and dopaminergic neurotoxicity, said, "The multiple dose regimen of injected MDMA administered by Dr. Ricaurte to primates does not simulate human exposure, does not cause cell death, and does not predict anything about human vulnerability to Parkinson's as a result of MDMA. In fact, Dr. Ricaurte's study shows that it is far easier to kill whole animals than to kill neurons"

According to youth drug education experts, it is counterproductive to overstate and misrepresent the harms of drug use. But they say that all too often, research results - and the way they are promoted and used -- are driven more by drug war politics and a scare tactics philosophy than by scientific principle.

"Like everyone, young people stop trusting you when you bend the truth to scare them," said Marsha Rosenbaum, director of the Safety First Project of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Good science, not misguided fear, is what helps us talk honestly and effectively with our teenagers about drug use and their safety."

Scientists pointed to several important flaws in the Science report:

1) The doses administered are not representative of human doses

The paper's prepublication title, "Severe Dopaminergic Neurotoxicity in Primates after a Single Recreational Dose Regime of MDMA (Ecstasy)," suggests it provides evidence about the effects of a single recreational dose of MDMA. In fact, however, all but two of the primates in the study were actually injected with three doses of MDMA within a 6-hour period. This multiple dosage regime killed 20% of the animals (2 out of 10), and possibly would have killed another 20% except for the fact that signs of distress caused the researchers not to administer the third injection.

Dr. Ricaurte and colleagues claim that according to their interspecies scaling model, which they use to estimate the human equivalents of the doses administered to animals, "individual doses of MDMA administered in this study are lower than those typically used by humans." It is difficult to believe, say critics, that a dose regimen this fatal is equivalent to amounts commonly self-administered by humans, in which fatal reactions are exceptionally rare. Critics say this difference in lethality further calls into question the validity of the interspecies scaling model used by Dr. Ricaurte and colleagues.

2) Data from actual human studies shows no dopamine reductions from MDMA

Dr. Ricaurte and colleagues suggest that individuals taking MDMA may have analogous dopamine changes with increased risk of Parkinson's Disease. However, they failed to cite several recent human brain scan studies and a post-mortem autopsy study that found normal dopamine systems in very experienced illicit MDMA users. These human studies suggest that MDMA may not result in dopamine changes in humans.

Dr. Ricaurte and colleagues have themselves carried out human spinal tap studies in very experienced MDMA users and found no evidence to indicate lowered dopamine metabolites. These spinal tap studies, also not cited in the Science article, are an indirect measure of possible Parkinson's risk and have been superseded by more accurate brain scan and autopsy studies

3) There is no proven link between Parkinson's and amphetamine or methamphetamine

The dopamine changes produced by MDMA in this study are similar to those caused by d-amphetamine and d-methamphetamine, two drugs legally available as prescription medicines at present and for more than half a century. During that time there has been no convincing evidence linking these dopamine changes to Parkinson's Disease. This suggests that more evidence is needed before linking the dopaminergic changes produced by Dr Ricaurte's multiple dose regime to neurological disease in humans.

Risk/Benefit Analysis for MDMA/PTSD Psychotherapy Research

The FDA has approved a study into the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Patients must have failed to obtain relief from at least one course of treatment with a serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as Zoloft, Paxil or Prozac, the only type of medicine FDA-approved for PTSD. This study will involve two oral administrations, three to five weeks apart, of a single dose of 125 mgs of MDMA in an air-conditioned room with subjects reclining on a couch and drinking an adequate amount of fluids. According to Rick Doblin, Ph.D., President of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS,, the non-profit organization that is sponsoring the MDMA/PTSD study, "It has taken 17 years since MDMA was made illegal in 1985 before a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the therapeutic use of MDMA has been approved by the FDA. During that time, over 260 people worldwide have already been administered MDMA in clinical research studies focused on evaluating various aspects of the safety of MDMA, without demonstrating evidence of harm to those human subjects. Dr. Ricaurte's latest findings do not significantly change the risk/benefit ratio for the subjects who will volunteer for our study. MDMA/PTSD research remains scientifically and ethically justified."

For additional information, contact:

Juan Sanchez-Ramos, PhD, MD expert in Parkinson's and in dopaminergic neurotoxicity. Ellis Professor of Neurology University of South Florida 12901 Bruce B Downs Blvd (MDC 55) Tampa, FL 33620 Academic Office phone: 813-974-5841 or 6022 office FAX: 813-974-7200;

Dr. Jim O'Callaghan, Chief, Molecular Neurotoxicology Lab, Center for Disease Control. NOTE: Dr. O'Callaghan can answer questions about neurotoxicity but any quotes attributed to him need to be cleared by Fred Blosser, Public Affairs Officer, CDC-NIOSH 202-401-3749

Rick Doblin, Ph.D. President, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 617 484-8711

Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D. Director, Safety First Project Drug Policy Alliance 415-982-3277

posted by mantid at 1:08 PM on September 27, 2002

goethean: I'm not claiming to have all the answers. But I assure you, that taking ANY drug will cause "damage" over time. Seems as though some of these people, ecstasy users (some former perhaps), just aren't willing to accept that. Does some ultra-scientific study have to come out that undeniably states that ecstasy causes problems for users down the road for people to get it?

What kind of answer do you want? What kind of answer would convince you? What type of study would you like to see that you wouldn't dissect until you find flaws that would please you?

Drugs=fun=cost=damage on some level. Period. I bet you drink bottled water because tap water isn't safe. You probably don't eat processed foods, etc.
posted by Witty at 1:08 PM on September 27, 2002

Witty, since you have posted no e-mail address:

I may annoy you, but I was a news-related entertainment photographer and I attended about a good third of the concerts that happened at various venues in Porltand, OR for the months between May 2000 and September 2000. I also attended about fifteen to twenty raves in that period of time in a professional capacity, and many more than that in my own spare time. From personal experience, I drew certain conclusions that contradicted what people had previously said.

Whether or not these were scientific methods, I did not claim them as truth. You're hypocritical if you say that making a statement is claiming it as scientific proof. (ref: Goaethen's post above)

Please discuss without hurling accusations.

Now, On topic: Bug138, great post. One of the dangers of street-bought MDMA is the variable toxicity -- so much that orginizations like "Dance Safe" have sprung up that provide on-site testing to make sure that the MDMA is safe and doesn't contain rat poison or another drug.

On the other hand, Bug, MDMA users that I have personally known (no allusions to scientific fact here) have had a tendency to use multiple hits over the duration of a night. Usually a few to get "rollin'", and then one every once in a while to keep the buzz on. In some cases, it was mixed with other drugs such as methamphetamines that have other toxic side effects. I beleive that the use model that they based the study on was true for large, overnight raves -- which is a goodly percentage of the raves and parties that I've been to.
posted by SpecialK at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2002

Oh, and say what you just said to a teen who's smoking. Face it, people are not logical and won't listen to logic. Chances are, they won't listen to something that says "you'll drop dead if you use it".

However, the variability in the results of studies do not help.
posted by SpecialK at 1:16 PM on September 27, 2002

(err, the above was directed to witty)

(and my name was derived from the cereal, not the drug. ;) )
posted by SpecialK at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2002

I beleive that the use model that they based the study on was true for large, overnight raves -- which is a goodly percentage of the raves and parties that I've been to.

The "use model" Ricaurte used on those monkeys actually equates with something closer to the equivalent of a 165lb human injecting 450mg doses of MDMA three times in one evening. (This is why 20% of his test monkeys died.) A human effective dose of actual pure MDMA orally is closer to 125mgs. I've seen alot of excessive pill popping of ecstasy, but i seriously doubt any of it began to approach the blood concentration levels equivalent to even half of just one of Dr. Ricaurte's crazy injections.

Other groups studying MDMA neurotoxicity have found themselves unable to replicate neurotoxic effects cited by Ricaurte without using substantially higher doses of the drug than his lab claimed, leading to allegations that he has been lying about dosage.

*sigh*... If we have to get all Chomsky about this stuff to get to the truth, then it almost seems like a lost cause. The sheer volume of scare headlines in a search for "mdma" shows that for the 'public mind' the verdict is already in.
posted by mantid at 1:50 PM on September 27, 2002

Twiggy, I apologize for the stereotype. The times I've gone to raves or anything with electronica, I've never done anything just 'cause the music itself is uplifting enough. Hell, I've never even touched a cigarette 'til two weekends ago, and that was merely to pass it to the chick next to me.
posted by hobbes at 5:51 PM on September 27, 2002

Thanks for the press release post, BTW, mantid.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:54 PM on September 27, 2002



There are definitely drugs (ranging from vitamins to caffeine and the variant of caffeine in tea to much more intensive drugs and specialized drugs designed to treat all kinds of things) which, while somehow affecting the recipient in the short term, but possibly not even giving the recipient a "high" at all, do not noticeably affect the organism in the long term whatsoever when taken regularly. Not for all people, not in all regular usage patterns, but yes, such drugs exist. Your statement is definitely overly broad and thus invalidated.

On the other hand, I don't deny that many (almost all?) popular, not fully researched hallucinogenic drugs cause physiological damage over time, and that many people are in denial about that.
posted by azazello at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2002

Witty, you're just proving that you're an ignorant prick. Grateful Dead concerts, for the most part, were never getting cancelled because people knew there'd be pot there.

Even heavy metal and "goth" concerts aren't getting put to a stop because of alleged or assumed drug use.

On the other hand, legislation is being past left and right at both the state and federal level to ban parties that involve "primarily electronic music and DJ's" - because they are "havens for drugs"...

If you don't believe me, go look it up. It's happening in more than just a couple of places.

I don't give a rat's ass if you're bright enough to realize that not 100% of ravers do drugs. But if people continue to make off-base generalized statements, then the more ignorant among us (i.e. the moms, the dads, and the cops who support legislation that bans a party or concert because of the TYPE OF MUSIC BEING PLAYED) will be inclined to believe them even more firmly than they already do.

I don't seek to be some sort of a spokesperson. I haven't been to "raves" or "parties" in years. But I don't like seeing music censored because people aren't sensitive to such stereotypes. comments like yours give me even more reason to stand up and say something about it, because they indicate that you have no understanding whatsoever of the implications of these stereotypes.

You may dismount your high horse now.
posted by twiggy at 1:36 AM on September 28, 2002

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