Pure ecstasy is safe, should be legalized and in stores: B.C. health official Perry Kendall

Nadine Bells
Daily Brew

Ecstasy in stores?  Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia's chief provincial medical health officer, is adamant that pure ecstasy, or MDMA, can be "safe" when consumed responsibly by adults.

He's taking his controversial opinion a few steps further by advocating for the legalization of the drug and for the selling of the drug through licensed, government-run stores. Essentially, Kendall wants an LCBO for ecstasy. Yet, people who shop at the LCBO still get drunk. How will "strict controls" be enforced once the buyers take their drugs home?

Kendall insists that he doesn't want to promote the drug for recreational use — he believes that usage will decrease with regulation. But wouldn't having an "Ecstasy Depot" in your neighbourhood encourage a little legal experimentation at backyard barbecues alongside mixed drinks? With legalization of ecstasy, those who actually respect the law would suddenly have new vices to play with.

Sure, the country would benefit big-time financially from ecstasy taxation. And, yes, regulated ecstasy would help ensure that users aren't getting a "bad batch." But another "bad batch" avoidance strategy is simpler: don't take it at all.

Kendall's statements come after at least 16 tainted-ecstasy-related deaths took place in Canada's western provinces since last July. Police say an average of 20 British Columbians who consume street ecstasy die each year.

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Toxins in ecstasy kill. But does that mean the pure drug should be available in stores?

B.C.'s RCMP, who don't differentiate between MDMA and the street drug in their enforcement or prevention strategies, aren't sold on the idea.

"We would view ecstasy as extremely dangerous," Sergeant Duncan Pound told the Canadian Press. "Not only given the fact that it's very hard to determine what might be in any given tablet, but the fact that there's such an individual reaction to those tablets."
It's a valid concern: side effects differ from user to user. Even if the content of the drug is regulated, the health effects can't be.

MDMA can cause teeth grinding, sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, anxiety, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and convulsions. These effects can apply even at low doses. MDMA also affects core body temperature, sometimes leading to overheating and dehydration at parties.

And while the "happy" drug might make users feel upbeat, social and intimate with others, the drug's letdown can be worse than a hangover, including "feelings of confusion, irritability, anxiety, paranoia and depression, and people may experience memory loss or sleep problems, jaundice or liver damage."

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The research is the problem: it keeps contradicting itself.

In 2011, a study in the Addiction journal found that MDMA doesn't impair cognitive functioning. "But while we found no ominous, concerning risks to cognitive performance, that is quite different from concluding that ecstasy use is 'risk-free,'" the lead author said. Yet two other studies (here and here) from the same year found otherwise, and the Canadian Public Health Association continues to warn about panic attacks, confusion and paranoia.

Health experts agree that the drug isn't addictive, yet it's also been proven that regular users can develop a tolerance to MDMA and need increasing doses to get the same effects.

At the beginning of this decade, researchers were speculating that ecstasy could contribute to the development of Parkinson's disease. Now, new research is indicating that the drug could actually ease Parkinson's symptoms.

Tainted ecstasy on our streets is a serious issue. But is stocking store shelves with the pure version really the best strategy to protect users from deadly drugs?

And how do we explain to smokers that they can't light up in a bar, while their college kids can legally pop ecstasy?

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