Last month, two “molly”-related deaths at New York’s Electric Zoo dance festival sprung open the floodgates of hypocrisy and misinformation. Certain mindless, sloppy journalists and news outlets have convinced the nation of an apparent “molly epidemic,” pushing MDMA to the forefront of the oh-so-successful war on drugs.
Journalists such as these have conveniently chosen to overlook the facts and mortality rates of MDMA as they compare with other, legal drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco, and various prescription medications. Last year, alcohol was responsible for 26,000 deaths. Similarly, 440,000 people die annually from smoking, and a further 27,000 deaths occur each year as a result of accidental prescription drug overdoses — that’s one death every 19 minutes.
Conversely, MDMA is the cause of fewer than 100 deaths per year. The positive effects of alcohol and tobacco are minimal, if they exist at all, while recent studies have indicated that MDMA can be used to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Why, then, has the vast majority of the media opted to paint the drug with the scapegoat brush?
The MDMA vs. alcohol debate is particularly interesting. In 2010, the British Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs published a comprehensive study on the top 20 recreational drugs, detailing each drug’s respective harm levels to the individual and society. Unsurprisingly, heroin and cocaine occupied the top two spots on the personal harm list. Not far below, as fifth most harmful, was alcohol. Way down the list in 18th position was ecstasy. At the same time, alcohol was found to be the most detrimental to society — above heroin, crack, and crystal meth. Ecstasy came in at 17th.
So what exactly are the risks of MDMA use? Research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse recently found that, contrary to popular belief, ecstasy does not cause brain damage. In fact, the long-term side effects of the drug are relatively minimal given its reputation and status as a class A illegal drug.
If you eat too much red meat, you put yourself at risk of cardiovascular disease. If you smoke too many cigarettes, chances are you’ll get lung cancer. If you drink too many beers, you may just royally screw your liver. If you consume too much ecstasy — and by that I mean abuse the drug every weekend — there’s a possibility you will be left with slight cognitive impairment, memory loss, and perhaps become prone to depression. Compare this with its positive long-term effects: increased feelings of empathy and intimacy with others, and the potential to help cure anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Small price to pay?
The thing about MDMA is that most of the risks associated with it are a result of its illegality. If the government chose education over petty scare campaigns and fear mongering, users could more easily learn to use it responsibly. They would know to space rolls out by at least a month. They would know to buy test kits to ensure what they have is the real thing, as opposed to a sketchy concoction of other chemicals. They would know to load with 5-HTP pre- and post-roll to reduce risk factors.
Instead, we have teenagers who go out every weekend to “get on the gear,” not knowing the risks of MDMA, let alone whether or not what they’re told is ecstasy is even the real thing, simply because they think it’s cool.
But my main gripe with the demonization of MDMA is the hypocrisy of it all. Considering the damage it causes to individuals and to society, there’s no way alcohol would be made legal were it invented today. Unfortunately, it’s so ingrained in our culture that it’ll always be readily available.
It seems the government feels that people who spend their weekends dancing awash with waves of euphoria and generally loving life are more of a danger to society than the mumbling, stumbling buffoons that crowd our streets, throwing up in trash cans and starting fights — because hey, if it’s illegal, it must be worse. Right?
* This post was originally published on the author’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.