Monday, February 23, 2009

Peanuts or Pills?

As we all know, or should, Reason is awesome. Over at Hit and Run, Ron Bailey posts an interesting question:
A New Scientist editorial poses this thought experiment:
IMAGINE you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?
Correct answer:
You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.
A lot of folks won't like this answer. Ecstacy, after all, is a dangerous drug that has people acting wacky and incoherently, destroying lives left and right. Right? Apparently not:
...on all tests except for verbal memory, ecstasy users performed just as well as before [they used it] and on a par with abstainers....the effect on [verbal memory] was so small - a difference of a quarter of a word on average from a list of 15 - the real world implications are questionable.
Neither Bailey nor the New Scientist deny that ecstasy is a mind-altering substance. Otherwise, why would anyone take it? (This applies both to recreational and medical use, of couse.) But the results do raise the question of why, exactly, there is such rabid fear mongering about such drugs. As the article points out, the main long-term effects of ecstasy appear to be "driving politicians crazy." Politicians, of course, drive the rest of us crazy with the phenomenal costs of the drug war - not the least of which is the fact that too many people no longer trust that there is any cost to taking drugs simply because so many of the exaggerated costs have proven unfounded.
The call isn't for everyone to go out and have ecstasy for lunch instead of a peanut butter sandwich. It's for drug policy to be based on the real, scientifically proven dangers of the drugs, and not the extent to which busybodies and politicians lose sleep over it.
Read the rest of the Reason blog post here and the New Scientist editorial here. The study on effects of ecstasy that's quoted briefly above can be found here.
Cross-posted to The Shotgun.

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