Stop Taking Ecstasy, You Dummies
    By News Staff | February 26th 2014 03:44 PM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Canada has gotten a bizarre sort of entrepreneurial in the last decade. With Toronto mayor Rob Ford making headlines and a booming ecstasy industry, they have become a party destination. 

    And that success has led to even newer designer highs which are flooding the drug market.

    "The chemists who are making these drugs are coming up with about 10 new drugs per year; the legislation cannot keep up with the market," said University of Alberta pharmacologist Alan Hudson, who studies how ecstasy and other drugs affect brain neurochemistry. "The best way forward is to educate people that they're playing Russian roulette—the health risks from taking these drugs are high, and potentially lethal."

    So Canadians just need more education? They have a huge recreational drug scene and have embraced both designer drugs and legal highs such as K2, spice, Benzo fury, Barts, Homers, bath salts, plant food and other "party pills." They must know these things are dangerous by now.

    "This is a pressing public health issue," said co-author University of Alberta co-author Kris Wells, director of programs and services with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. "The profile that we're seeing of someone taking ecstasy or these so-called recreational drugs is not perhaps your average user when we think of drug use. It could be one of our own university students going to a party on the weekend—where they haven't experimented before—and then take a tablet of ecstasy. It doesn't have an effect and they take another one; pretty soon they're in emergency fighting for their life."

    Newer designer drugs, often purchased online from Asia, also represent big business in Canada.

    "For some of these legal highs, you only need a milligram to get high," Hudson said. "If you can buy a kilogram for $200, the mark-up can be huge."

    Although Health Canada statistics show ecstasy use is down slightly among young people across the country, a 2006 report from the RCMP shows Canada has become a "major production and export country," a situation that developed over just two years and a significant departure from the mid-1990s, when Canada was an import-consumer nation.

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    Pharmacologist Alan Hudson. Credit: Richard Siemens/University of Alberta

    During the same time, Hudson notes, ecstasy has become increasingly toxic, cut with a mix of, at times, deadly chemicals. In a 2007 Health Canada study, only three per cent of seized ecstasy tablets contained pure MDMA, the drug's main ingredient, compared with 69 per cent in 2001.

    Two such contaminants are PMA and PMMA; the latter may cause severe serotonin toxicity and has been linked to as many as eight deaths in Alberta over the past two years. Hudson and his colleagues caution that even pure ecstasy can have toxic side-effects that vary by individual, due to genetic factors.

    "There is no safe dose of ecstasy," Hudson explained.

    Rise of legal highs

    Head shops and online operators have increasingly turned to peddling legal highs such as BZP and TFMPP, often sold as "party pills," "Barts" or "Homers" for shapes resembling characters from the Simpsons TV show. Both ingredients were declared illegal in 2012, but have given way in popularity to newer drugs such as "plant food" or bath salts, which have been sold legally as variants of mephedrone, methylone and MDPV—the latter of which is known for inducing a "zombie-like" state and paranoia.

    The federal government banned the drug, but Hudson said there will always be others like Benzo fury and various online options to take their place, underscoring the need for more education.

    Research grounded in the community

    In their efforts to raise awareness, the research team has forged relationships in the community, including the Edmonton Police Service.

    Wells co-chairs the Chief's Advisory Council, a role that helped facilitate access to newer drugs for research, and his work at iSMSS puts him in constant contact with at-risk youth. Sexual and gender minority youth are three times as likely to take drugs and alcohol as negative coping mechanisms, he said, which underscores the importance of creating positive environments that help youth feel supported, and allowing them to make informed, hopefully healthy decisions.

    "It's about taking the research to the next level—communicating it, mobilizing the knowledge to all the stakeholders and, ultimately, to all those young people who may be facing a choice in their lives," Wells said.

    When youth do turn to drugs, Hudson said, parents can turn to resources offered by Alberta Health Services and look for warning signs such as

    • depressed moods after the weekend (a common symptom of coming down from euphoric highs of ecstasy)
    • mood changes, often associated with drugs such as K2 or spice
    • sudden nosebleeds, from snorting designer drugs such as plant food

    Published in Drug Science, Policy and Law. Source: University of Alberta


    Josh Bloom
    This is simply drug discovery minus 99.9% of the work. 
    There are an infinite number of analogs of MDMA (or any other drug, really) that can be made.   
    The contrast between this and the work done by the drug industry is astounding. 
    Drug industry: Develop assay(s). Test libraries of compounds to look for anything that "lights up" the assay.  Make sure it is not a false positive. Determine structure-activity relationships by making hundreds (sometimes thousands) of analogs. Throw out anything that is toxic, not absorbed, rapidly metabolized...
    Write patents.
     Select 5-10 of the best compounds for meticulous safety and efficacy (usually in animal models).  Pick the best two or three.  [You are now about 6-7 years from the date the project started.   
    Make a load of the stuff, then use it in preclinical studies.  If everything works out (and this is incredibly rare) file an IND (investigational new drug) application with the FDA, which will give you permission to begin Phase I clinical trials (safety). If it doesn't bomb, Phase II trials with hundreds of people (safety and efficacy). If it makes it through this, run Phase III trials with thousands of people.   If the damn thing is still alive (and chances are that YOU won't be by the time this happens), file a new drug application (NDA) for approval. FDA decides.   Total—about 14 years.

    Illegal drug industry: 1) Make something. 2)Sell it on the street and see if people start dropping dead. 3) if they do go back to #1.
    I've always been amused by people that use street drugs, but hate drug companies. 
    Josh Bloom
    Greg M.
    (1) Most of these street drugs are not lethal, but just toxic enough to give repeat users a host of chronic disorders down the road, so we end up with an younger population of infirms. Also, the insults to their gametes may very well perpetuate their poor choices (not literally) in the form of DSBs and trinucleotide repeats... Actually, have there ever been longitudinal studies linking habitual drug use and the inter-generational frequency of various disorders? Maybe something to it, maybe not. Just typing aloud...

    (2) This is incentive for legalization of all drugs, across the board--even if ecstasy and the whole neo-hippie/New Age movement is tired as hell and played-out!
    Begin with this assumption: it's all a joke. Then you will see the humour in everything.
    Josh Bloom
    Maybe most street drugs are not lethal, but when you make a derivative, all bets are off.Fentanyl is 100X more potent than morphine.
    Add one methyl group to fentanyl and that number goes up to 2,000X and you have a drug that will kill you immediately if you inhale a little and you're dead.

    You just can't know
    Josh Bloom
    John Hasenkam
    (2) This is incentive for legalization of all drugs, across the board--even if ecstasy and the whole neo-hippie/New Age movement is tired as hell and played-out!

    New Zealand has just done that so all these new drugs can be legally sold but must first be passed through Govt labs for purity, though of course safety is another question that will only be determined over the long term. It is the only practical solution because this problem was always going to emerge and be impossible to police.

    Greg M.
    John! It has been awhile, man!

    If there is a choice between dirty, potentially harmful in the long-term drugs and clean, potentially harmful in the long-term drugs, then one must always go with the latter. Also, the latter offers the possibility of an income-generating tax source and regulation, etc. God bless those crazy Kiwis!
    Begin with this assumption: it's all a joke. Then you will see the humour in everything.
    "There is no safe dose of ecstasy," Hudson explained

    No pharmacologist would ever utter this kind of shit

    That is why radiation and mercury and cigarettes never killed anyone either.

    Though I am not sure why you would insist he is not actually a pharmacologist, since he is actually a pharmacologist. I guess you more of an expert than he is about pharmacology. We get a lot of anonymous experts telling actual experts they are stupid when an article disagrees with someone's lifestyle.

    So are you some kind of ecstasy homeopath and only take 1/1000000th and still get the full effect? In your expert opinion, what is the ecstasy intake you guarantee is safe?
    "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous"

    Peanuts vs. Ecstasy - Which is Safer? - Hit & Run : -

    100 percent of people can be harmed by ecstasy while only people who are allergic to peanuts will be harmed by peanuts. I like Ron, I even gave one of his articles a citation in Science Left Behind, but alleging that ecstasy is just another effort by social authoritarians in government to be nannies ignores the actual evidence of its effects - the piece you linked to does not address any evidence at all.  Politics makes strange bedfellows so it is always interesting that a right-wing guy will embrace drug freedom. Most people think right-wing people are conservative and therefore anti-drug.

    You have now committed one of the reasons people stop replying to comments - you are "moving the goalposts." You previously said that no pharmacologist would declare that ecstasy is unsafe at any level and now you change to 'the dose makes the poison' - which everyone knows to be true but was much different than when you were accusing the pharmacologist of 'a line of shit.'
    Greg M.
    I need some context, like what criteria they are measuring. Dpp (Death per peanut/pill) is not informative. Also, have you read the comments on that thread? Not persuasive. I'm all for legalization, but longitudinal studies need to be done concurrently.
    Begin with this assumption: it's all a joke. Then you will see the humour in everything.
    Great article

    A lethal ignorance: We could make drugs safer. We choose not to -