More Confused Thinking on MDMA

December 18, 2007

ScienceDaily picked out an abstract from the recent Society for Neuroscience Meeting in San Diego on proteomic markers of methamphetamine and traumatic brain injury. About 12 % of the proteins analyzed in rat cortex were similarly changed after the two types of insult. This is out of a pool of about 30,000 brain proteins according to the article.

Ok, pretty pedestrian stuff unless you want to get all excited about whether buzz-topics like “proteomics” are really going to lead to fundamental insights into disease or toxic processes in a way that informs public health.

Except the ScienceDaily article had to temerity to talk about “club drugs” and refer to prior studies from the group with MDMA-induced brain changes. Sure enough, in sails MAPS to set the record straight (as if it was required):

Contrary to what this article states, MDMA is not a “type of methamphetamine,” and while the two drugs share similarities in structure, their actions in the brains of rats and people are different

True enough as to the first complaint. The ScienceDaily article booted on this one when referring to “MDMA…and other types of methamphetamine”. The only “types” of methamphetamine that would be relevant would be talking about either the stereoisomers (mirror image forms of molecules can be formed/isolated separately or as an approximately equal mixture) or something to do with formulation (free-base, HCl or other salt form). What would be more accurate would be to refer to “types of amphetamine” since “the amphetamines” are considered to be a broad drug class, notwithstanding that “amphetamine” is in fact a distinct member of the class. Nevertheless. MDMA and methamphetamine do share some properties. It is simply denialist to try to pretend they are completely unrelated and would be expected to have no effects in common. Yet this is a common tactic of the advocacy/science-denialist crowd.

Back to the MAPS complaint:

The difference between the drugs is evident when considering the paper that Ricaurte had to retract after it turned out that he had administered methamphetamine to monkeys instead of MDMA.

People taking ecstasy may be unintentionally ingesting methamphetamine, but in no other way are these particular findings applicable to MDMA. [emphasis added-YHN]

The usual tiresome Ricaurte reference combined with denial of the existing science. Sigh. As if it were not the case that MDMA can indeed produce lasting brain changes, albeit mostly serotonergic rather than dopaminergic (as with methamphetamine, typically). As if it were not the case that MDMA can indeed cause hyperthermic conditions which can be fatal (an issue of dose, not a qualitative difference from the other amphetamines). Look, it is indeed good science to be appropriately critical of each finding and even a body of findings. It is generally good to have skeptics in most areas of investigation and discussion. This nonsense, however, goes right straight past skepticism to pugnacious defense of a position regardless of the existing evidence.

the findings refer to discoveries concerning protein markers of oxidative stress. It is not news that oxidative stress is one of the main models explaining neurotoxicity after high or repeated doses of MDMA in nonhuman animals….As it happens, [the researchers] have published previous research with MDMA. One of those papers stated that MDMA produced lesser signs of oxidative stress than methamphetamine

Wait a minute. WTF? If oxidative stress is one of the main models to explain MDMA-induced neurotoxicity, and the present work is looking at protein markers of oxidative stress following methamphetamine-induced oxidative stress…well it seems relevant to me. Even a developmentally delayed garden vegetable should be able to see this. Heck, even these MAPS people seem to recognize this (in the span of only a few short lines) but have here shifted to carping about the dose. “In no other way applicable“? Please.

There already exists a wealth of studies comparing ecstasy users with non-users, and these studies provide a better measure of real-world effects than rat studies, which are done in this case to study models of oxidative stress. Heavy ecstasy users show problems with memory and decision-making, but no one has compared these problems against those in people with traumatic brain injury.

Hmm. So studies in ecstasy-using humans are better, but nobody has yet done a study comparing them to human TBI patients. So clearly the referenced study is complete sheist! Man these people are confused.

This would all be purely academic if it weren’t the case that people increasingly get their information from Internet sources, MDMA advocacy sites appear significantly earlier than anti-drug or harm-reduction sites in results from multiple search engines and annual incidence of MDMA use in teens seems to move in concert with attitudes toward MDMA “risk”.

3 Responses to “More Confused Thinking on MDMA”

  1. talkingdrugs Says:

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  2. sas556 Says:

    Interesting general point, but I have to disagree with you on some of your claims. First and foremost, there is very little literature on MDMA neurotoxicity. Here’s a study done by your own NIH (the abstract: pointing out that synaptic damage seems reversible. This is not to say that MDMA is not dangerous (hyperthermia is one example of that), not by a longshot. I’m not even saying that there is no neurotoxicity. The fact is, there just isn’t any respectable evidence for it. While I agree the Ricuarte example has been way overused, MAPS has a point about the research in general. As a scientist, I refuse to back anything without solid evidence. As a scientist, I will not falsify data, even if I think it would be better for myself or my community. I hope you feel the same way.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    it’s been a while since I wrote this but I’m pretty sure I was concentrating on the contradictory logic here.

    now me, I’m pretty agnostic on the idea of whether the permanent lasting reduction of serotonergic markers constitute “neurotoxicity” or not. My focus tends to be on the functional end of things. If the function is off-lined, that is a *functionally* toxic effect. If it is irreversible…then who gives a crap if the terminals are there or not?


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