Drug Ecstasy Seen as Potential Prozac Alternative

Drug Ecstasy Seen as Potential Prozac Alternative
Posted by FoM on February 02, 2001 at 07:08:58 PT
By Ulysses Torassa, Chronicle Medical Writer  
Source: San Francisco Chronicle 
Like marijuana before it, MDMA -- ecstasy to its users -- is being touted as a potential therapy, and a handful of psychiatrists are agitating for permission and money to study the illegal drug in controlled settings. "This substance is a potent, immediate-acting antidepressant, and there is no such thing right now in psychiatry," said Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York and editor of the forthcoming book, "Ecstasy: The Complete Guide." 
But the idea of giving a medicinal sheen to what has become a much-abused street drug scares federal drug officials and some in the psychiatric community. "My concern -- and I think that of most psychiatrists -- is that this is a potentially very dangerous drug," said Dr. Marc Graff, a Southern California psychiatrist and member of the American Psychiatric Association's Joint Commission on Public Affairs. Government drug policy officials point to mounting scientific evidence that MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) causes permanent changes in brain cells and is known to interfere with the body's internal temperature regulation system, sometimes causing death. Still, the potential use of ecstasy as a therapy will be among the topics on the table today at a first-of-its-kind conference on the drug at the Presidio in San Francisco. The conference is organized by the Drug Policy Foundation, which works to reform drug laws and end the government's war on drugs. Ecstasy's popularity is growing at an alarming rate among young people, and it is a regular part of the scene at all-night dance parties known as raves. Conference chair Steve Heilig of the San Francisco Medical Society said there isn't enough research to know whether it is as wonderful as its proponents claim -- or as terrible as government anti-drug messages warn. "This drug has been characterized by a lack of rationality on all fronts," Heilig said. "What we're trying to do is sort it, to figure out what is really known at this point." A Boston organization called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies has worked for years to encourage research on the psychological benefits of psychedelic drugs, including ecstasy, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. A study in Spain funded by the association is using MDMA to treat post- traumatic stress disorder in women who have been raped. A University of California at Los Angeles psychiatrist is seeking approval to use it to reduce anxiety and improve quality of life for people with terminal cancer. A proposal to use the drug for people with the stress disorder in South Carolina is expected to be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in March, said Rick Doblin, head of the psychedelic studies association. He has outlined a 5-year, $4 million strategy to get federal approval for the drug. In fact, a handful of psychotherapists used MDMA in the 1960s and 1970s as an adjunct to counseling before it was outlawed in 1985. It is said to have helped people feel empathy with others and to make important psychological breakthroughs. "It's helped me reduce my fear of death. It's helped me prepare for parenthood. It helped me address the essential loneliness of being," Doblin said. Antidepressants such as Prozac and Paxil increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin available in the brain, although they typically take weeks to become effective. MDMA goes further, giving the user an almost immediate sense of euphoria. But that dramatic effect on the brain may have long-term effects on brain cells. A single dose of ecstasy given to monkeys resulted in changes in the brain's serotonin system that could be detected weeks later. Physical effects of the drug include increased blood pressure and heart rate. It also interferes with the body's ability to regulate temperature. Some young people who have taken the drug danced all night in a hot, confined space, failed to drink water, and then died from organ failure. John Mendelson, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, is one of only a handful of U.S. researchers who have studied the drug's effects on humans. He has found that it is neither as bad as some claim nor as good as proponents wish. Mendelson gave a dose of MDMA to people who had already tried it on their own. Heart rate and blood pressure went up, but there were no adverse reactions. Even if it is shown to have some clinical benefit, market forces may keep the drug from ever reaching pharmacy shelves. That's because proponents envision using it just once or twice to get past a crisis or make a psychological breakthrough. Users typically develop a tolerance for the drug fairly quickly, which cannot be overcome with higher doses. "It's definitely my belief that the magic goes away with repeated use," Dr. Holland said. "There's no profit margin in a drug that you take once or twice and you're done." Complete Title: Illegal Drug Ecstasy Seen as Potential Prozac Alternative----Proceedings of "The State of Ecstasy" conference at the Presidio will be Webcast at: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Ulysses Torassa, Chronicle Medical Writer  Published: Friday, February 2, 2001 Copyright: 2001 San Francisco ChronicleAddress: 901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103Contact: letters sfchronicle.comWebsite: Articles - Ecstasy
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Comment #1 posted by Robbie on February 02, 2001 at 07:33:58 PT
Now, where have I heard this before?
>>"This drug has been characterized by a lackof rationality on all fronts," Heilig said."What we're trying to do is sort it, to figureout what is really known at this point."Hmm. So, for how long will this basic thought be repeated by medical "experts" and government officials? They STILL say the same thing about cannabis.>>"My concern -- and I think that of mostpsychiatrists -- is that this is a potentiallyvery dangerous drug"These we go again. The fact is, most drugs (if not 99.4% of them) are "potentially very dangerous." So this single statement will be the rationale behind governmental and other stigmatization of the drug, and, ultimately, it's continued presence on Schedule I.
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