|Commentary : Ecstasy More Dangerous than Realized|
Commentary : Ecstasy More Dangerous than Realized
By Cadet Robert Chamberlain and Cadet Ben Braasch, Army News Service.
Washington D.C. -- (ANS) August 1, 2000 -- Although overall drug use is dropping in America, recent years have seen a surge in the popularity of the drug Ecstasy.
There is a "widespread growth" in Ecstasy use, according to the testimony before the Senate by Donnie R. Marshall, an administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Since 1995, the number of high school seniors who have tried Ecstasy has doubled to one in 10. Between 1998 and 1999 the number of emergency room admissions involving Ecstasy increased 150 percent.
In 2000 the DEA seized over 3 million tablets - three times as many as the previous year. The arrest of several military policemen from Fort Bragg, N.C., for both possession and use of the drug has once again shown that the Army is not immune to trends in American pop culture.
Ecstasy is touted by its proponents as a harmless nirvana. The drug, which is usually put in bottled water or pacifiers to prevent against grinding teeth and heat injury, is mistakenly thought to be as benign as the drinks served from behind the bar, or so the story goes. In actuality, Ecstasy poses the risk of long-term brain damage, severe mood swings, substantial fines, and incarceration.
Ecstasy causes the brain to release large amounts of serotonin. This chemical causes feelings of euphoria and gives the individual a blissful sensation. Normally, serotonin is released and reabsorbed in a regular cycle by the brain. However, when the serotonin reservoirs are depleted by Ecstasy, adverse side effects occur.
The most immediate effect is that body temperature rises rapidly. Serotonin is an important part of the body's temperature regulation system. Once thrown out of balance, it loses its effectiveness. To counteract this risk, Ecstasy users often dress in baggy clothes and consume large quantities of water. However, on a hot, crowded dance floor Ecstasy poses an additional risk: elevated body temperatures also increase the chance of permanent brain damage. After the serotonin reserves are depleted users are often irritable, impulsive, and depressed because the brain can no longer "afford" good moods. The picture to the left represents serotonin in white - the difference between the Ecstasy user on the right and the normal brain on the left is obvious. This short-term effect usually clears up in a couple of days, but in the process permanent long-term damage can occur.
In a study performed by researchers George Ricaurte, Una McCann, and George Hatzidimitriou at Johns Hopkins University monkeys given Ecstasy for four days in doses comparable to those consumed by recreational users still had brain damage seven years later.
Some users try to protect themselves by taking Prozac. However, Prozac also blocks enzymes that are essential in breaking down Ecstasy, increasing the possibility both of overdose and of developing Parkinson's disease.
The neurons that are permanently injured are responsible for memory and critical reasoning. Studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center have demonstrated that long-term users of Ecstasy score significantly lower on tests of verbal and visual memory.
Others have shown that even short-term users are at risk, although this is hotly disputed. According to Cindy Miner of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "It is likely that as you take more, you get the build up effect so either really high doses or small ones taken over time will cause [brain] damage."
However for people who have used the drug less than 10 times, "this research is really hard to do because it is impossible to gauge the dosages the users have taken. A lot of drugs in the clubs are diluted or may have other substances that cause damage, like LSD, in them."
In 1985 Ecstasy was reclassified by the DEA as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that the government has determined that it has no legitimate medical uses.
Thus, Ecstasy falls under the purview of Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Being caught in possession of any amount of Ecstasy could carry a sentence of up to five years in jail, dishonorable discharge, and forfeiture of pay and allowances. Recreational drugs have been, are, and will continue to be a fact of modern life. From heroin to chewing tobacco, each drug holds a particular promise and exacts a particular price. It is important that soldiers become aware of the physical and legal costs associated with each drug, and then make wise decisions for their long-term benefit. The choice to use Ecstasy may give the user momentary euphoria, but only at the risk of brain damage, dishonorable discharge, and prison.
(Editor's note: Chamberlain and Braasch are attached to the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs for training.)