Matthew Alice: This is the second time I find myself typing a letter to you about the same subject. I sent the first letter some months ago. I had written you about the illegal drug Ecstasy. I am trying to persuade several people I know not to do it, but according to all the files and books I have read, they cannot determine if this drug causes brain damage, and it is getting harder and harder for me to tell my friends not to do it. I would appreciate a reply soon. — Raving, San Diego
This is a question better sent to Dear Abby, but I’ll take a swing at it anyway. You’re right about the research. Ecstasy (MDMA) is chemically related to methamphetamine and hallucinogens, has been used by psychiatrists as a therapeutic aid, and has been through several incarnations as a popular street drug. In fact, the stuff's been around since 1914, when it was created as a weight-loss pill. Recent animal studies at Johns Hopkins suggest that the drug destroys the axons of brain cells that create serotonin, which is a mood-related chemical. When the axons grow back, they’re deformed and don’t reconnect in their usual pathways. But the long-term implications of this are unknown; and the scientists tested unusually large doses by injection, not in pill form.
The few deaths (human) attributed to Ecstasy have been from heart arrhythmia and hypothermia, possibly in people who had some pre-existing heart problems and who might have mixed MDMA with other drugs or alcohol. How many 20-year-olds think there’s anything wrong with their hearts? And MDMA is illegally manufactured, containing who-knows-what as an adulterant. It’s not unusual for Ecstasy to contain some heroin. But that wild card undoubtedly adds to the thrill of the experience for your raving friends.
And even if they should give up MDMA, there’s a perfectly legal item that mimics it, Herbal Ecstasy, that’s marketed as a “food supplement,” as vitamins are, so it’s not regulated like a drug by the FDA. H.E. is loaded with botanical ingredients high in caffeine, circulatory stimulants, and ephedra (an herbal form of the stimulant/decongestant ephedrine). Ephedra is on its way to being a controlled substance, since it’s now used in meth labs as a non-smelly alternative to ephedrine, but that could take a while.
If you’re asking me to give you the ultimate, over-the-top fact that will make your friends suddenly gasp in horror, drop their cappuccinos, and flush their Ecstasy down the toilet, well, neither one of us will ever be able to do that. There’s nothing more fruitless than offering rational arguments against irrational situations. “Drug” use, including things like cigarettes and coffee, has as much to do with emotion as with logic. Besides, not many people like being told how to live their lives, no matter how wise the advice. Perhaps this slightly modified quote from American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr will help: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Move over, Abby. Matt’s in the house.