Edinburgh leads research into Eestas

The effect of the drug Ecstasy on humans is to be the subject of a ground-breaking Scottish study. Words: Thom Dibdin

THE LONG-TERM effect of Ecstasy on the human brain is to be the SUbJGCI of a unique study at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

Although the drug’s effect on the brains of animals has been observed and psychological tests have been carried out on human users, this is the first time the direct physical consequences of using it will have been measured in Europe using people rather than animals.

Dr Davrd Semple is a research fellow at the Department of Psychiatry at Edinburgh University. In the investigation, funded by the Wellcome Trust, he will examine 60 healthy young men: half of whom take Ecstasy and other drugs on a regular basis, the other half comprismg drug users who do not take Ecstasy.

'Initially, we will carry out a psychological assessment of memory, concentration and reaction times in the two groups,’ said Semple. ’A dozen from each group \‘Vlll then be assessed using a brain- imaging technique called SPET. This Will look at the particular system in the brain which we know is affected by Ecstasy.’

The serotonin system, which is implicated in a variety of functions including sleep, memory and appetite, is the main area of interest.

Animals given regular doses of Ecstasy show long- term damage to the nerve cells of this system. 'Exactly what this means 15 unknown because they don't appear to behave any differently,' said Semple.

Although the media regularly reports on psychiatric problems following Ecstasy use, the evidence is often compromised. ’It is very difficult to tease apart cause and effect,’ Semple argued. He said it was frequently unclear whether the cause was Ecstasy use, drug use or a tendency towards

'At the moment people taking Ecstasy are effectively carrying out their own research, but with no indication of what the findings are.’ Dr David Semple


Ecstasy users are to help pioneer research into the drug

psychiatric problems unrelated to drugs.

’If we were to find that there was some damage to the serotonergic system then it may be possible to offer intervention to deal With that,’ Semple added. ’It might not interfere with people’s lives at the moment, but we would be looking at whether they would be storing up problems for themselves in the future.’

The Edinburgh study comes at a time when Ecstasy users and clubbers have v0iced concern over their mental health. A new survey of 1013 peOpIe at two Rezerection all-night dance events, published by the Edinburgh-based drugs advrce agency Crew 2000, found 26 per cent reported drug use had affected their mental health.

However, research is complicated by the issue of multiple drug use. Of those in the Crew 2000 survey who reported an effect on their mental health, 93 per

cent had used drugs of some description in the last six months, 66 per cent used Ecstasy weekly or more often and 46 per cent used cannabis daily. The question for Semple is whether it is general drug use or Ecstasy in particular which is causing problems.

'We were very pleased to get involved with this research and make people more informed,’ said Liz Skelton, coordinator of Crew 2000. She points out that such research is made more problematic because the drug is illegal. ’At the moment people taking Ecstasy are effectively carrying out their own research, but with no indication of what the findings are apart from their own mental health.’

Dr Semple is still looking for volunteers for his research. To take part, you must be male, over eighteen, healthy and should not have a family history of psychological problems. You should be a regular drug user who has either never used Ecstasy or who uses it on a regular basis. Dr Semple can be contacted on 0131 537 6813.

And finally . . . don’t get your billboards in a twist, hire a bored Bill


THE TEST OF TRUE LEADERSHIP appears to be how durable an -ism you are. A recent survey by Collins Dictionaries offered a clear indication that the person you should be voting for on 1 May is, cue fanfare, Buddha. Interestingly, or otherwise, Buddhism, as coined by a Mr S. Buddha, aged 2565 or thereabouts, is the English language's most frequently used -ism. Of the current batch, Blairism lands in 23rd place, six slots behind Majorism. Ashdownism gained too few mentions to register. Odd, that.

BILLBOARD JUXTAPOSITION - always a risky proposition, especially at election time. The Conservatives appalled Lanarkshire residents recently when they erected a poster within the gates of Ravenscraig’s demolished steel plant 'Britain is booming', it read. 'Don't let Labour blow it,’ it went on. Bizzarely, local residents were a bit miffed by this.

More intriguingly, in Glasgow city centre two adjacent posters raise important policy questions. One, advertising Channel 5’s movie output, is followed closely by another, from Labour, pleading 'Britain deserves better’. Is there a hidden Labour manifesto pledge to ban such dross as My Stepmother Is An Alien? Now, that might be worth voting for.

POOR OLD MALKY RIFKIND. Never the most popular of chaps just ask Michael Forsyth the Foreign Secretary was recently banished from his local Safeway supermarket after canvassing opinion - or harassing customers in the car park. In fact, the bespectacled one had to be told twice, having been unceremoniously ejected from the premises a week earlier. One staff member put it thus: 'You would have thought Rifkind would have the intelligence and diplomacy to stop acting like a fool.’ Not really, no.

Bill Roache: giving the Tories Street cred

NOW HERE'S AN ISSUE on which the Tories deserve our unqualified backing. They are attempting to prevent the Labour anthem, Dzream's ’Things Can Only Get Better', from receiving Radio 1 airplay, as the station would effectively be giving royalties to the party. Just goes to show that not all censorship is evil.

YOU WOULD HAVE THOUGHT Neil Hamilton and his terrifying missus would have more sense. If they were after an upturn in their fortunes, the last thing you would expect from them is to be seen dead in, never mind in, their English country garden with Bill Roache, alias Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow. After all, Roache sued the ex-Tory supporting, soaraway Sun for daring to accuse him of being a dullard.

NO THREAT FROM ROACHE YET of leaving the country once those dirty Reds get in, but one man who is certainly going nowhere is Reggie Kray, former Thatcher devotee and now Blair fan. The reason? Dear old Reggie wants a more caring society to flourish. ‘Love thy neighbour, vote Labour,’ sloganised the incarcerated one. 'At the end of the day we all have to live together.’ Unless of course, you decide to pin your neighbour's limbs to snooker tables and rearrange the odd face or two. (Brian Donaldson)

l8Apr—l May 1997 TllEUSTS