Last week another piece of research was released on ecstasy. This time it was a piece of Irish research which has -“ according to media reports -“ suggested clubbers using ecstasy to keep them dancing through the night may damage their immune systems.

The thrust of the study appeared to be that although much of the recent concern by health authorities around the use of ecstasy focused on psychological health, there are also new physical effects emerging. One of the researchers, Dr Thomas Connor of Dublin’s Trinity College, was quoted as saying ecstasy has potent immunosuppressant qualities which have the ability to increase an individual’s susceptibility to disease. The environment in which ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is taken further increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases. People ingest these drugs in crowded nightclubs full of young people with lots of bugs (germs) going around.

Dr Connor said evidence so far suggested somebody who took two tablets during a night out would experience a weakening in their body’s natural defences lasting up to 48 hours. Scientists have yet to study the long-term impact on the immune system but the potential was there for damage in hard-core users. The media report goes on to talk about instances of unusual illnesses in young users such as shingles of the eye and cases of meningitis -“ which causes inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord -“ shortly after ingesting the drug.

So what does this mean; should all ecstasy users be concerned about their immune systems or does anyone really care? As this column has stated many times before we always need to be very careful with how we interpret research results. Findings can be reported in a sensational way and as a result the true message can often be lost. Many drug users do not trust research findings, believing that they do not reflect their own experiences. I have endeavoured to find this report -“ the story in the paper doesn’t tell us whether it is a piece of research, whether it was a paper from a conference or just an interview that a journalist requested. As a result, it is very difficult to comment on what it all means. Regardless of that, it got a major run in many of the papers and will be used by a variety of people in the future when they comment on the effects of ecstasy.

Journalists have a difficult job. Often they are given a story to write on a topic they know nothing about and are expected to have a good grasp of the issue, then write a piece within a matter of hours. They have to look at it from all angles and submit an article that not only informs but also maintain the reader’s interest. The drug issue is a complex one and often one that is treated in a very sensational manner. Shock horror stories sell and will continue to do so. I will endeavour to keep you posted on the results of this study.

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