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In Search of False Euphoria

Habeas Mentem

A review of two very different books on MDMA

Ecstasy: The Danger Of False Euphoria
By Anne Alvergue
New York: The Rosen Publishing Group Inc.
Drug Abuse Prevention Library
1998 64p

Ecstasy: The Complete Guide
Julie Holland
Vermont: Park Street Press
2001 $19.95

The Nazis distinguished two types of science, "Jewish science" and the more robust "Anglo-Saxon" kind. "Jewish science" was said to be insubstantial because of the inveigling influence of Jews, peddling the photoelectric effect from dark alleys; unabashedly distorting the truth to further world domination. "Anglo-Saxon science", on the other hand, could stand firm on traditions such as racial purity, phlogiston and the ether. Likewise, the u.s. government and it's fat-cat army of hacks and sycophants, sell us the bogus dichotomy of "false euphoria" and "real euphoria", in a subtle attempt to further alienate it's citizenry from meaningful language and dialogue about drugs, separating, for us dunces who can't think for ourselves, the wheat of approved happiness from the chaff of the frowned upon kind. All pleasure from illicit drugs being the frowned upon kind.

Since it implies its opposite "real euphoria", "false euphoria" is anything that acts on the nervous system to produce a feeling of elation but is proscribed by the government. A few examples may be in order: a police officer handcuffing a medical marijuana advocate in a wheelchair at a rally, may have feelings of genuine euphoria for a job well done; a kid dancing on MDMA, no. A writer who produces a book that follows the government party line on drugs, may, by all means, feel real euphoria when the check comes; a student in a college dorm high on pot, no way. A DEA agent who successfully seizes a house or cigarette boat after having it appraised by a real-estate agent, and sells it through forfeiture laws, would, presumably, feel the genuine kind of euphoria we are all striving for. Likewise, a government attorney who successfully argues that such-and-such pot grower should spend several years in jail, is bound to experience the real kind of euphoria as well; but a Dead-Head with a nitrous balloon is only kidding himself.

Oh, do not ask what is it, let us go and make our visit
-T.S. Eliot, Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock

Just what is this false euphoria I've been hearing about for years, and more importantly, How can I get some? All I've ever been able to find in the scientific literature is the physiologic description of just one kind: euphoria (to accommodate government-approved usages, the only way to talk about it in the abstract would be to call it euphoria euphoria).

Despite what simple-minded obscurantist scare writers may maintain, the fact is anyone feeling intensely happy is experiencing a chemical event no matter what the trigger: a stimulus is acting on the human nervous system to produce a cascade of neuro-transmitters in the brain allowing neuro-chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin to modify and rush through the limbic system like a DEA raid on a trailer park. To compound the craziness of the distinctions between "real" and "false" euphoria, if endogenous compounds are the main or sole cause of joy, those compounds are actually naturally occurring opiate receptors in the brain, discovered in the early seventies by Pert and Snyder, called, "endorphins" (from the conjunction of the two words, endogenous and morphine), which, according to the 1986 Federal Analogue Act, are illegal to possess. Your brain is illegal.

Alvergue's book is entirely disingenuous because it mixes state-approved lies and half-truths with entirely fictitious scenarios of non-existent teens, giving no indication which is the "science" and which the scare-story. Of the few dangers Alvergue could come up with from the use of Ecstasy was the inability to find school-work interesting, and a fiendish craving to shop. In Ecstasy:The Danger of False Euphoria, we meet troubled teens Abby, Cameron, Chris, Peter and poor Audra who, "Within an hour [of taking E]... was overwhelmed by an intense high. She wanted to move around and touch everything...[now] she often skips school to hang out with Peter and shop for clothes and CDs". Which is an odd scare-scenario, if you think about it, since a drug that makes teens craven shopaholics would seem like something our market-driven government and economy would subsidize. There's also pathetic, MDMA-addicted Ray, presumably dressed in baggy-pants and avidly sucking a day-glo baby-pacifier during his calc test, who, "snapped at one of his friends in class because he thought his friend was giving him a funny look." Now the chump is in the hands of "the school's drug counselor" getting "Ray's life back on track". Our track.

Then there's this whopper: "Cameron and his friends swallowed the brown-speckled pills. [Don't eat the brown acid!] After forty-five minutes, the teens started to feel the drug's effects. Cameron started to vomit and couldn't stop. His friend Jimmy [Jimmy?] became very drowsy and flat like he was going to faint. Andrew began to panic...As soon as Chris heard what had happened, he rushed over. He was shocked to see how sick everyone was...Chris later found out that the brown-speckled pills he had given his brother probably contained heroin." ["No survey has ever yielded heroin as an adulterant in an Ecstasy pill. It would not be cost-effective for pill manufacturers to use heroin in their pills..." --Julie Holland, MD.]

One way to know these phony cases are made up from Alvergue's vacuous imagination is by reading the disclaimer at the front of the book: "The people pictured in this book are only models; they in no way practice or endorse the activities illustrated. Captions serve only to explain subjects of the photographs and do not imply a connection between the real-life models and the staged situations shown." But this disclaimer only applies to the photos of various youths curled up foetally on floors and shower stalls, or zonked and staring into LiteBrites two inches from their nose; victims, no doubt, of serotonin-depletion, hyponatraemia, or Mom's maxed out credit card. Teens reading this book may not pick up on Alvergue's bait-and-switch methods, which seems to be the plan.

According to most sources, the government banned Ecstasy in June, 1985, when it found out MDA (not MDMA) caused brain damage to laboratory animals when injected in massive quantities (Alcohol has been proven to cause brain damage to humans but no DEA agent has stepped in to put Adolph Coors in the clink). Of course, Alvergue admits no one knows for sure if MDMA causes brain damage. Doctors writing for the Lancet medical journal in England recently underwent public censure from prohibitionist moral crusaders when they published an article indicating there was no evidence for brain damage in MDMA users, this about a year and half before "Ricaurtegate" where government-funded scientist, Dr. George Ricaurte, of Johns Hopkins University, long the power-house prohibition scientist against any MDMA use, went down like a zephyr when it was announced his data bogus and his conclusions a sham. This and a myriad of other facts and inconsistencies about all illicit substances, writers like Anne Alvergue and her cohorts at the "Drug Abuse Prevention Library" would like to gloss over and ignore in their attempts to turn curious, youthful minds into repositories of dim government propaganda, hoping to create easily managed and acquiescent drones.

* * *

"Drugs are subversive. They make those in power very nervous"
-Julie Holland, MD

Julie Holland's exhaustive anthology, Ecstasy: The Complete Guide would seem to be the antithesis of Alvergue's tendentious writing for simpletons. Holland has collected articles about MDMA from many fields of research such as chemistry, pharmacology, neuroscience, medicine, sociology, law and a top-heavy section of psychotherapy. Holland interviews several key individuals in MDMA culture and science such as "The Godfather" of MDMA, psychedelic chemist, Alexander Shulgin, who briefly discusses why he feels governments crackdown on drugs:

"Those in power see changing consciousness as something they do not wish to do, because they will lose control. Therefore, they tend to bar that from happening, partly out of their own fear and inability to alter where they stand and how they having this degree of control, by being able to seize and confiscate things and arrest people and put people you don't like into prison, you're gaining power, money and control. And that is the overwhelming drive of anybody who is in authority -- to get as much control and money and power as you can. The war on drugs is providing an unparalleled example of a mechanism for doing just that."

An interview with Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, (MAPS) and longtime eminence grise of much MDMA colloquia and FDA studies, was revealing about the history of legislation against MDMA by the DEA. There is beautiful interview with a rabbi on the spiritual aspects of MDMA. The book features strong articles by noted English doctor Karl Jansen, on psychological complications with extreme Ecstasy use; and erstwhile Leary protégé, formidable psychologist Ralph Metzner, expounds on the power of MDMA to "reframe" psychological problems for users as well as change negative attitudes towards one's body; as well as the group dynamics of MDMA use.

An aspect of MDMA which gains mention throughout the book is that in addition to potent psychological insights engendered by this compound, there is the lesser known quality of it as an excellent analgesic, particularly with those suffering from serious debilitative illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and end-stage cancer, many of whom claim that MDMA totally alleviates their symptoms while under it's influence. Neurotoxicity, long the bugbear of MDMA media hype, is discussed in exacting detail in several articles in the book. In Dr. Grob's study, SPECT scans of MDMA users showed cerebral brain flow changes for weeks after MDMA use, but "baseline levels were normal" and no behavioral changes noted. There seems to be an overall consensus that MDMA can seriously alter serotonin receptors, but no consensus as to what this might mean in terms of day-to-day life quality for users. It's generally understood that MDMA is not without risks but there is little harm to users of small quantities.

Another theme touched upon throughout the book is MDMA's use in the treatment of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" (PTSD). Studies of the drug for this problem were conducted in Spain and MAPS shows interest in this area as well.

One serious flaw with the book is the heavy reliance on psychiatric and psychotherapeutic models of human behavior. Without getting into a full-on Szaszian diatribe against Holland's religious faith in psychiatry, like a creationist, she makes the galling mistake of presenting psychotherapy as science: "The field of astronomy has the telescope; biology has the microscope. MDMA is just such a tool in the field of psychotherapy." Which may hold water in some sense, but sneaky-peteing psychotherapy past the reader as if it meets the same scientific rigor as biology and astronomy is apt to raise eyebrows with skeptical readers (psychiatry is as scientific as astrology and water dowsing and is just behind trickle-down economics in terms of verifiability). In fact, the book is saturated with a blind, even fanatical faith in the therapeutic state as the only viable social model for humanity and it's drug use: only a trained cadre of psychiatric priests should be allowed to administer psychoactive drugs to an ignorant and capricious humanity. In an interview with Holland, psychiatrist Charles Grob states wistfully, "Ideally, one would almost want to propose a moratorium on the recreational use of the drug, so that the therapeutic value can be investigated." There has been, it's called The Drug War (It was funny and unexpected to see in this book two fleeting references made by different psychiatrists to the ravages Tim Leary made of Establishment Psychiatry, as if they were grande dames, still reeling from Leary peeping under their skirts thirty years later).

One gets the impression that behind the no doubt sincere humanitarian impulses that motivated Holland to write and edit this book, there was a desire to align the revelatory powers of E with psychiatry (there is good reason for this thinking considering the underground history of MDMA), in an attempt to resuscitate the profession's sordid reputation with the public.

One enthusiast of the book countered my criticism by stating that Holland was attempting to cloak her zest for MDMA in the socially acceptable framework of psychotherapy, not wanting to "pull a Leary" and appear an advocate of total hedonism, triggering an Establishment tantrum. Which may be a good strategy, since as a psychopharmacologist she's clearly on the ball.

Thanks to Pam at the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii for suggesting this revue as well as donating many copies of this book to public libraries throughout Hawaii.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2004-03-03 00:00:00