MAPS Letter to Dr. Nora Volkow - September 18, 2003

September 18, 2003

Dr. Nora Volkow
NIDA Director
6001 Executive Blvd. 5th Floor
Rockville, Maryland 20852

Dear Dr. Volkow,

I'm writing you on behalf of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS,, a non-profit research and educational organization working to develop MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine. As you are aware, on Sept. 5, 2003, the journal Science released a letter from Dr. Ricaurte et al., NIDA-funded researchers at Johns Hopkins, retracting a study they published in Science on September 27, 2002. That study erroneously reported that the drug MDMA (Ecstasy) damaged dopamine neurons and claimed that even a single night's use of Ecstasy could cause Parkinson's. Unfortunately, Dr. Ricaurte's retraction leaves quite a few unanswered questions which it would be in NIDA's best interests to resolve.

I'm writing you now to request that you provide a full accounting of the NIDA-funded research conducted by Drs. George Ricaurte and Dr. Una McCann, Johns Hopkins, from 2000, when they say they received mislabeled 10 gram bottles of MDMA and methamphetamine for their research, to the present. Specifically, MAPS is requesting information regarding the following questions:

1) The doses, routes of administration (oral or injection), number and kind of animals, ambient temperatures, and starting and concluding dates for all the failed attempts with genuine MDMA to replicate the erroneous findings reported in the now-retracted Science article.

This information is of major importance since in their retraction letter, Dr. Ricaurte et al. still claim that MDMA could indeed damage dopaminergic neurons and lead to Parkinson's. Furthermore, it seems likely that Dr. Ricaurte et al. were still defending their study in public (in their June 6, 2003 Science letter) when they already knew they were unable to replicate their results either orally or by injection. Dr. Ricaurte's withholding of important information complicated MAPS' ability to obtain IRB approval for our FDA-approved study of the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of subjects with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

2) A list of all the studies that were conducted with mislabeled MDMA or methamphetamine, including the amounts of mislabeled MDMA or methamphetamine used in each study, the route of administration, the number and type of animal, the death rate of those animals, the starting and concluding dates of those studies, and whether the studies in question need to be retracted or have yet to be published.

This information is required to correct the scientific record. Dr. Ricaurte et al. wrote in their retraction letter that the contents of the bottle mislabeled as containing MDMA were all used up and the bottle thrown out before they discovered that it contained methamphetamine instead of MDMA. Simple estimation indicates that a maximum of 1.5 grams from that bottle was used in the animals reported on in the Science article. A September 17, 2003 article in The Scientist reports on what is now the second article retracted by Ricaurte et al. A maximum of 648 milligrams of drug were used in that study. Ricaurte et al. have now accounted for a maximum of 2.148 grams. In which studies were the remaining minimum of 7.852 grams of methamphetamine used? It seems doubtful that all that material was used in unpublished research. Also, we've heard nothing so far about experiments conducted with what was originally considered to be methamphetamine but is now claimed to have been MDMA.

Now that the retraction has taken place, it has seriously damaged the credibility of NIDA's educational efforts about MDMA. As you have said in your August 19, 2003, New York Times interview, "If you want to be a scientist, you cannot allow politics to get in the way of your objectivity." I trust you will release this information and work to restore NIDA's lost credibility.

Sincerely yours,

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.
MAPS President

Related Links:  Scientific Community Responds to Ricaurte Study  |  MAPS MDMA Research Page  |  MAPS in the Media