Blogrolling: Psychedelic Research

May 29, 2008

Today’s offering for the Reader interested in drug abuse issues is the Psychedelic Research blog. This appears to be a brand-spanking new effort with the first introductory post on May 27 which indicates:

This is a blog to track research and events relating to the scientific study of hallucinogens and consciousness. I hope that documenting my readings here will be interesting or even helpful to others. My writing goals with this blog are relatively modest: I primarily aim to provide abstracts from papers, linking to them whenever possible, with occasional brief comments about what interests me.

So without much track record or content yet, what drew my eye?

It is the blog author of whom the sidebar says:

Matthew Baggott is a graduate student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley and a research associate at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute.

So what?
Well, DuWayne posed an assertion in a comment which I kept meaning to return to in one way or another. DuWayne said:

I would also note that another factor that seams to me would be important, is that MDMA is rarely sold pure, with inert fillers. Whether it’s ketamine, LSD, heroin, cocaine or something more obscure, it’s almost never just MDMA. I can see this really being a complication for research, because it really works out as being several different drugs. It’s probably complicated even more by the fact that mistakes are often made in synthesis, which sometimes make their way into directions that that chemist posts somewhere and that version of the drug can become relatively common.

Baggott’s most salient contribution to the MDMA literature was one of the first papers to attempt to grapple with the Ecstasy tablet contamination issue.

Baggott M, Heifets B, Jones RT, Mendelson J, Sferios E, Zehnder J. Chemical analysis of ecstasy pills.
JAMA. 2000 Nov 1;284(17):2190. [PubMed][JAMA][MAPS]

And it is indeed true, as DuWayne surmises, that some fraction of tablets sold as putative “Ecstasy” contain psychoactive drugs other than 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Sometimes a single non-MDMA psychoactive compound and sometimes several together. Some additional fraction of street Ecstasy tablets contain no MDMA at all and may contain various other drugs. Since you can get this paper from MAPS I won’t belabor the specific results. A 2006 paper that presents similar analysis from E.E. Tanner-Smith. The limitation to these analyses, of course, is that they rely on the tablet testing service ( is also cited in Baggott et al 2000 but it is now one dataset). Which relies on recreational users sending them samples for testing. Which introduces any number of relevant biases including a potential uptick in submissions for tablets similar to those that seemingly produced nonMDMA subjective effects and market-share winners.
Data from tablets collected from law enforcement seizures are reported in Camilleri et al, 2005 (Australia), Teng et al, 2006 (Taiwan), Cheng et al 2003, 2006 (Hong Kong), Giraudon and Bello, 2007 (France) and a few more I’m not citing (you can do the PubMed legwork if you like). These analyses concur that some fraction of tablets sold or represented as “Ecstasy” contain drugs other than MDMA. Obviously, the sources of bias in these studies are different but equally likely to disrupt our ability to answer precisely how many Ecstasy tablets available to the street market(s) contain nonMDMA psychoactive constituents.
This is all the long way of saying, go check out the Psychedelic Research blog.

11 Responses to “Blogrolling: Psychedelic Research”

  1. JSinger Says:

    Baggott M, Heifets B, Jones RT, Mendelson J, Sferios E, Zehnder J. Chemical analysis of ecstasy pills.
    JAMA. 2000 Nov 1;284(17):2190.

    First thought: I know nothing about this field, but that sounds like a textbook case of using creativity and salesmanship to turn a technically trivial assay into a flashy, high-profile, genuinely useful paper.
    Second thought, after looking at the paper: As above, except that they also managed to persuade users to give them free drugs and got them to pay for the assays!


  2. MD Says:

    wow, that is some excellent PR for a grad student to get for free. perhaps you could spotlight a female grad student as well…?


  3. DrugMonkey Says:

    Sorry, I have an explicit policy of only promoting male (preferably white) bloggers. It helps keep us focused on the best of the best, like this one and this one.


  4. MD again Says:

    DM, i know you already name drop women who blog but i do not recall that you do it for female researchers who work on drug abuse.


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    ahh, well, that’s another matter. If I recall, I don’t actually discuss that many papers directly. So it is a bit hard for me to assess your assertion. by all means if you have specifics let me know.
    I do talk about the Monitoring the Future data a lot and I think the major Investigators are all men there. I talk about Ricaurte quite a bit….but then he’s a major figure in MDMA tox and the center of the infamous debacle….really quite a unique character. Other than that, most of the PIs working on MDMA are men (I did highlight the Schenk lab stuff at one point) and yes, I suppose I take the usual shortcut/lazy way out of referring to a body of work from the lab by the PIs name. Am I overlooking a number of female graduate students by doing this? probably. I don’t see a good practical way around this though, unless I’m talking one specific paper.
    Other than that, since I don’t really have a defined plan for what I write about, well all I can say is I notice what I notice. Something hits the press or seems to be an issue pertinent to Reader comments or something I’m thinking about. Feel free to hold my feet to the fire if there is something specific that pops up that you think I would otherwise be blogging about that just happens to be from a woman scientist…


  6. MD Says:

    cool. will do. 🙂


  7. DrugMonkey Says:

    thanks MD, for some reason I now have the post idea of “The Women of MDMA Science” rattling around in my head….


  8. Matt B. Says:

    There probably are more male than female PIs studying MDMA, but exceptional PIs include Kathryn Cunningham at U Texas and Chris-Ellyn Johanson at Wayne State. Now that human MDMA research is becoming less unusual, one might anticipate more psychologists studying it, which may shift the gender balance.
    There is also a sad gender imbalance in our knowledge of MDMA pharmacokinetics. Until recently, published papers on human MDMA PK have used only male participants. This is changing (partly thanks to NIDA). Still, I have yet to see any data on whether there are gender differences in formation of putative neurotoxic MDMA metabolites.
    Thanks for your kind comments on my new blog and old paper! It’s particularly gratifying given the respect I have for this blog.


  9. DrugMonkey Says:

    Indeed. Cunningham and Johanson are tops on the list. Others who made important contributions include Lisa Gold, Lisa Baker, Jessica Malberg, Una McCann, Annette Fleckenstein, M.I. Colado (and Esther O’Shea in her group), Gail Winger, Jennifer Cornish and Kelly Clemons (I’m assuming from the first name here) from the McGregor group…
    hmm, the more I think about this the more I like the idea of a full post. it’ll take some work though so it may not be soon..


  10. DuWayne Says:

    Thanks for the link, I’m looking forward to checking this one out more.


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