Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jun 2012
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2012 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Rob Breakenridge


Given the recent spate of deaths in Calgary linked to tainted ecstasy,
there's a surprising dearth of voices here calling for smarter drug

Instead, what we continue to hear from politicians and police is the
same old circle of empty logic: ecstasy is bad because it's illegal
and it's illegal because it's bad. It's a position which, among other
things, is immune to evidence about harm and more specifically, harm

There's clearly a difference between pure MDMA, the chemical typically
known as ecstasy, and the drug sold on the streets billed as ecstasy,
which can contain little or no MDMA. The overdose deaths in Calgary
and elsewhere in Alberta have been linked to the chemical PMMA.

Rather than the law addressing these problems, it's increasingly clear
that the law is exacerbating them.

With no one in a position of power in Alberta willing to point all of
this out, we must instead look for insight to our neighbours to the

B.C.'s chief medical officer last week sparked controversy by pointing
out some rather self-evident truths about the drug ecstasy. The
reaction to Dr. Perry Kendall's remarks suggests we have a long way to
go in rethinking drug policy in this country.

Kendall noted that the perceived dangers of MDMA are overblown, and
that the real dangers are posed by the various chemicals being added
by those selling the drug on the streets. He also noted that in its
pure form and in small doses, MDMA is actually relatively safe.

Kendall seemed to stop short of an outright call for legalization, but
pointed out that the risks of MDMA could be mitigated if the drug were
legalized and regulated.

It's hard to see what's controversial about any of this, except for
the fact that it goes against the prohibitionist mentality which
remains so pervasive in this country.

Kendall would certainly seem to have the evidence on his

A study published last year in the journal Addiction found that the
use of MDMA did not impair cognitive function. A 2007 study in the
journal Psychopharmacology found much the same thing. Researchers
studied the impact of low doses of MDMA and found no significant
effect on memory or attention.

Perhaps of more significance is how MDMA compares to other drugs. Not
all drugs are illegal, of course. Alcohol and tobacco (nicotine) are
both legal despite the addictive nature of these drugs and the risks
involved in consumption.

A 2010 study published in the medical journal The Lancet studied 20
different drugs and ranked them based on a combined score of harm to
the user and harm to society. Alcohol ranked No. 1. MDMA was ranked
17th. Additionally, a 2004 study published in the journal Addiction
found that MDMA has a better safety ratio than alcohol.

Yet, under our laws, it's perfectly legal (and incredibly dangerous)
to get wasted on a bottle of rum. Yet it's illegal (and apparently not
all that dangerous) to ingest a small amount of MDMA.

So when a spokesman for the Calgary Police Service declares that: "I'm
not sure there's such thing as safe MDMA," he is offering a position
which is clearly at odds with the available evidence and is
illustrative of the hypocrisy inherent in our drug laws.

There is also the potential MDMA appears to have in treating, among
other conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder. It's certainly the
case, too, that our laws, and the attitudes which create and sustain
them, are complicating those lines of research.

None of this is to endorse or encourage the use of MDMA. That's
certainly not Kendall's intent.

Rather, it's the need to recognize what prohibition has wrought. As
Kendall observes: I don't think (prohibition) keeps drugs out of the
hands of vulnerable people, and I don't think it does much to reduce
harmful use, and I think it has other harmful effects, like putting
billions of dollars into the hands of criminal enterprises."

He's absolutely right. That's the reality of what our drug laws have
created, and given the resistance to a serious rethink, it's going to
be the prevailing status quo for the foreseeable future.
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MAP posted-by: Matt