Many people have commented to me on the story that got quite a large amount of coverage in the media last week. The story related to an article which ran in the magazine The Psychologist, published by the British Psychological Society, which provoked an outcry by apparently claiming that the dance drug ecstasy may not be dangerous and that some of its ill-effects may be imaginary.

According to media reports the three psychologists claimed that many of the studies since 1995 have been flawed. They were also reported to have accused researchers of bias. The article was critical of the way studies involving young users have been conducted. They pointed out that many psychological problems start in adolescence anyway, ecstasy users invariably took other drugs as well, and some of the symptoms reported mirrored those caused by simply staying awake all night and dancing. Most of the young people in the studies were volunteers from universities which raised questions about how representative they were, the article said.

As always, what the researchers actually said and what the media reported were dramatically different. Firstly, the article was based around psychological health and the effect of MDMA on serotonin. It never attempted to discuss short- or long-term physical risks, although it did talk about ecstasy-related deaths. This commentary piece was examining existing research on neurotoxicity and whether we were seeing marked differences in the psychological health of ecstasy users. Nowhere in the piece did the authors suggest that ecstasy was harmless.

Also no-one in this country covered the follow-up story which ran in the UK paper that ran the report -“ basically retracting the story completely. The following correction was printed in The Guardian’s Corrections and Clarifications column, Wednesday 4 September 2002.

Our headline Ecstasy Not Dangerous, Say Scientists (the front page, 2 September) was not justified by the report to which it referred. One of the psychologists quoted in our report, Dr Jon Cole, has asked us to make it clear that he has never said that ecstasy was not dangerous and that he did not speak directly to our reporter. The editor of the magazine, The Psychologist, the original source of our report, points out that the psychologists state: -˜-¦ No one should underestimate the dangers of illegally using controlled drugs. There is the very real possibility that ecstasy use will cause long-term damage to the brain.’ The full article is at www. bps.org.uk/publications/thepsychologist_free.cfm.

I find it amazing that these sorts of stories can be published, create havoc and then be completely forgotten by the organisations who cover them.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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