Time on MDMA

April 27, 2007

Time magazine is the latest to feel that recent efforts to study MDMA for possible psychotherapeutic use are worth a mention. Naturally everything has to be in the context of Timothy Leary so the baby boomers can understand. I digress. One interesting comment from the article:

Antidrug warriors may argue that the research will lend the drugs an aura of respectability, prompting a new round of recreational use

As I suggested in a previous post, the issue is not “respectability” but rather perception of risk. Particularly with MDMA in the last 5 years or so, the perception of danger associated with “Ecstasy” appears to go in close relationship to the incidence of use. Risk perception for a recreational drug is undoubtedly affected by many things including whether or not the drug is available as an approved medication. What bothers me most about media attempts to communicate science is that they botch it so badly by writing articles uncontaminated by any previous data as each new single-paper result grabs their fancy. There’s nothing like institutional memory or incremental reporting based on prior publication to be found. I suppose all they are really after is the controversy. Nevertheless it is irritating. While science may be complex in some areas, issues of drug toxicity just aren’t that complicated to communicate. Neither, in my view, is presenting the nuanced view of things that constitutes real science. This insult to the intelligence of the average Time reader has broader implications because it leads to a wide distrust of science. I have one friend (Ph.D. in the physical sciences) who delights in discounting each health recommendation that hits the popular media because as he says “Wait a year and the advice will change”. Think about the recommendations about alcohol (“No drinking!”, “Err, one a day for your heart!”, etc) and you’ll see where he’s coming from. Translate this in a broader context and you’ll start to see why “oh that’s just a theory” gets applied in a perjorative way to things that are in fact well supported scientific findings.

today we have no priestly Leary figure spewing vertiginous pro-drug proclamations. Instead we have a Leary for a less naive age: Richard Doblin. Also a Harvard guy–his Ph.D. is in public policy–Doblin founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in 1986 to help scientists get funding and approval to study the drugs. … Doblin has painstakingly worked with intensely skeptical federal authorities to win necessary permissions. MAPS helped launch all four of the current Ecstasy studies, a process that took two decades. It’s the antithesis of Leary’s approach.

The notion that Doblin is a noble advocate for an orphan drug is…interesting. His opinions on the recreational use of cannabis and MDMA are readily apparent if you care to read through everything that is available at MAPS.

The connecting point, however, is this. The MDMA-advocacy position is reflexively anti-science which is amazing given they they are obsessed about analyzing the science and appear reasonably informed. No finding in animals studies can possibly apply to the human condition. Each “flaw” they find in a paper questions the whole field. Every scientist that finds anything that may be risky about MDMA is just a pawn of the right-wing anti-drug political position as far as they are concerned.

I understand that legalization advocates and popular journalists have an agenda. Don’t we all? But their way, the political/media/legal way, should be abhorant to scientists. Ferocious defense of a position whether the evidence is with or against it. Our way, the scientific way, is defense of the evidence first and our interpretation of it second. Whether the evidence supports our closely held theory is a distant third. Or at least it should be.

2 Responses to “Time on MDMA”

  1. drugmonkey Says:

    not entirely sure what this link has to do with the subject at hand rick(?). do you object to my blog name or something? I suppose “drugAPE” might have been more accurate but, it doesn’t really have the same cachet now does it?

    “hypersensitive to criticism”? based on what exactly? Yeah, I’m “hypersensitive” to the denialism of science that is the current political vogue on many issues from climate change to energy policy to endangered species. I am specifically interested in recreational drug toxicity and the anti-science position of the recreational drug legalization advocates engages in scientific denialism.

    my points about MDMA and recent MSM treatment of this issue are attempting to use the specific issue with which I am familiar to generalize about the way science is viewed in the public sphere. I think it does a disservice to knowledge and truth to hop from hot topic to hot topic with no link to the associated knowledge base. The TIME article is particularly bad because they’ve had many reports on MDMA, including devoting Cover stories to it in the past. Was this unclear?


  2. […] (MDMA, aka “Ecstasy”) for medical purposes. I’ve talked about the Slate and Time puff pieces on this before, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) […]


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