Controversial Drug Ecstasy Might Be Used in Scientific Experiments

Northern Life
Monday, May 16, 2005
Northern Life link
Controversial drug Ecstasy might be used in scientific experiments
by Jason Thompson

The illicit psychedelic party drug Ecstasy, probably best know for its connection to gatherings called raves, may have some therapeutic value, says a scientist studying the chemical known scientifically as MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine).

Dr. Stephen Kish is concerned with the long-term effects of Ecstasy use on the human nervous system and its unproven potential to relieve the terminally ill of their anxieties.

Dr. Stephen Kish was in Sudbury recently to spread the word about Ecstasy, a neurotoxic chemical used the world over, including Northern Ontario.

“The point of my talks is to suggest to clinicians in the north what they might say to patients who come to them and say, ‘I have a problem, I’ve been taking Ecstasy for a long time, I think that problem is caused by Ecstasy,” said Kish.

“Ecstasy is readily available on the streets of Sudbury being used predominantly by young people between the ages of 14 to 25,” said Peter Orsino, head of the Greater Sudbury Police drug squad. “We’ve been successful with some rather substantial seizures in town. We have seized up to 7,000 pills at one time.”
According to Orsino, Ecstasy use in the north has gained strength and popularity over the years. One major reason for this is the number of clandestine labs that have been surfacing all over Canada.

Kish is concerned with the long-term effects of Ecstasy use on the human nervous system and its unproven potential to relieve the terminally ill of their anxieties.

“Ecstasy is an illegal substance taken by a variety of people for recreational purposes, but there is the quite separate question of whether Ecstasy might be used therapeutically in the treatment of psychiatric conditions,” said Kish at a symposium at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. “That hasn’t been proven yet.”

There are two clinical tests currently being conducted in the United States, with government approval, testing the merits of Ecstasy and its potential to aid terminally ill patients of anxiety as well as repressing suicidal thoughts while allowing patients to express themselves to loved ones during their final days.

The two conditions targeted by the clinical studies are post-traumatic stress disorder as well as anxiety associated with terminal cancer patients. Although Kish acknowledges the possibility Ecstasy might be useful in combating some medical conditions he has his reservations and suspects it may not work.

“How do I feel mentioning the possibility that Ecstasy might have a therapeutic use because I’m afraid that it might encourage young people even more to use the drug,” said Kish. “But I always feel that honesty has to be the best way to go.”

Kish offers examples of morphine or opium (used to make both codeine and heroin) as examples of drugs that have definite pain-relieving attributes, yet are abused recreationally on the street.

Ecstasy alters the neurons in the brain, inducing feelings of euphoria, increased energy and sexual arousal. It also suppresses appetite, thirst and the need to sleep and can lead to kidney or heart failure or even death in high doses.

While Ecstasy is frowned upon for its recreational abuse, Kish doesn’t wish to see its medical value tarnished simply for this reason.

The clinical tests on Ecstasy in the United States are part of a growing body of hallucinogenic research. All tests are administered under supervision and in responsible doses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is now being applied medically for obsessive stress disorder and anxiety. The godfather of all hallucinogens, LSD, is soon to be tested as a possible treatment for debilitating cluster headaches. LSD was widely researched in the 1950s and 60s for its ability to combat depression and schizophrenia. Kish is the head of the Human Neuro Chemical Pathology Laboratory at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto.

Canadian newspaper Northern Life ran an article in the online “police beat” section by Jason Thompson in which Dr. Stephen Kish of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, among others, discuss problems and potential of MDMA use.