Ecstasy could help terminally ill
By Jacqueline Maley
December 31, 2004
The Age, Australia
The party drug ecstasy could be used to soothe depression and anxiety in terminally ill patients after US authorities approved a trial of the substance.
The US Food and Drug Administration has authorised the use of controlled doses of ecstasy, or MDMA, for cancer patients struggling with the prospect of their impending death. Australian doctors have welcomed the test.”
Ecstasy is extremely efficient in changing people’s mood,” said Dr David Caldicott, research fellow from the emergency department of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. “If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be pursued so enthusiastically as a recreational drug.”
MDMA has been investigated in the US for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. “The precedent exists for its use medicinally,” Dr Caldicott said.The ecstasy trial is the latest in a string of experiments using illicit drugs in medical settings.
In the US, doctors are researching the effects of psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – on terminally ill patients and people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Marijuana has also been tested for the relief of nausea and pain.
The successful testing of these drugs could create dilemmas for governments with a prohibitionist approach to recreational drugs, Dr Caldicott said.
Buck Reed, the chief executive of first aid provider UniMed, said the politics surrounding party drugs was out of step with medical thought.”
Doctors will always try to find a new use for something but that doesn’t mean politicians and law enforcement officers will like it,” he said.
Dr Gordian Fulde, the director of emergency medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital, said all recreational drugs, including ecstasy, can have positive effects when taken in a clinical setting.”
I think it’s really good that official places are trying to find out if we can help patients with illegal drugs,” he said. Dr Fulde said the therapeutic use of ecstasy was no different to the use of opiates in pain relief. It was also a cheap drug to manufacture.
But the head of palliative care at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Associate Professor Paul Glare, said: “When people are suffering from terminal illnesses they need a multi-disciplinary approach. To think that there would be some magic drug to solve everybody’s problems is unrealistic.”
Most palliative care patients were elderly, Associate Professor Glare said, and more prone to side effects from mood-changing drugs. “Young people at a dance party might get a benefit from it, but these patients sometimes find euphoria unpleasant,” he said.
About 50 per cent of terminally ill patients suffered from depression and anxiety, Associate Professor Glare said. Most could be treated with “talking therapy” and a minority were prescribed antidepressants.
“I don’t think ecstasy is likely to be the answer.”
Reports about FDA approval of MAPS’ MDMA/cancer anxiety study have generated articles and debates around the world, with one example being an