SHOULD MDMA BE BANNED? NO, SAYS A DEA JUDGE.
When a drug comes along that the mass-media scriveners like, that drug is always doomed. Last year, a couple of Newsweek magazine scribes and a handful of miscellaneous network-telly news producers abruptly became infatuated with MDMA, a pleasantly-intoxicating euphoriant compound known as "Ecstasy," or "XTC," among recreational drugniks since the 1970’s. Not only was this drug legal, they reported in amazement, but there was no lack of perfectly respectable physicians with legitimate M.D.s who were ready to say that it wasn't terribly harmful or even disorienting, and would assuredly be of some use in the practice of psychiatry. So for a few months, all the magazines and the telly were full of rave reviews of this new perfectly-legal "hug drug" which was reportedly saving troubled marriages, enhancing sex, and providing illuminating poetic and philosophical insights to its users.
MDMA was accordingly made totally illegal before another couple of changes of the moon, on July 1, 1985. The Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, perceiving that these harebrained media twits were prattling the exact same nonsense about MDMA as they’d been prattling about LSD-25 two decades previously, put a stop to it tout de suite. They put MDMA on the same "emergency legislation” list with the hideous new Parkinson’s-Disease "designer" opiate, MPTP, and railroaded them straight onto Schedule One along with LSD, heroin, marijuana, and all the DEA’s other eternally-verboten killer drugs.
Unlike the Hdeous MPTP, however, MDMA had some fairly important people ready to go to bat for it: numerous eminent Ivy League psychiatrists who would testify in its favor, and some extremely influential Washington and New York law firms working in the interest of a certain multi-national drug company with a budget the size of Fort Knox. So the DEA's designation of MDMA for Schedule One went under a formal challenge in its very own administrative law courts in Washington last winter; ultimately the DEA's very own in-house judge ruled that MDMA rightfully ought to be placed on Schedule Three, where it would be available to doctors for prescription to their patients, though its sale to idle, viciously-inclined, thrill-seeking drugniks would still merit truly ferocious penalties.
The written decision of the DE As in-house legal overseer, Judge Francis Young, makes for a lovely read. In arguing for its Schedule One designation for MDMA, the DEA’s lawyers had essentially told the judge that they believe they’re entitled to eternally banish any drug which has not already been accorded a specifc "accepted medical use ” by the FDA; which would necessarily eliminate any possibility that the FDA physically could, in a million years, ever define an "accepted medical use” for any drug the DEA had scheduled beforehand, such as MDMA.
Judge Young unlatched this Catch-22 briskly enough. "There is no denying that such a situation would greatly simplify the scheduling task of the DEA staff," he wrote. "It pro-
vides a quick solution to the problem for the DEA. It provides a certain answer. But it is wrong.” The policeman’s job is only that easy, the judge reminded the DEA, in a police state.
After that, all the DEA's other arguments were extraneous, but the judge diligently took notice of them anyhow. The liveliest of them was the brain-damage rumor, which the DEA had cooked up to justify banning MDMA on the same "emergency” list as their hideously-potent neurotoxin, MPTP.
When they undertook to lodge MDMA forever in Schedule One last year, the DEA regaled all its pet mass-media mouthpieces with their own lurid interpretation of a basic rat experiment which had been carried out years previously at the University of Chicago by researchers Louis Seiden and Charles Schuster. Basically, Seiden and Schuster had shot up their rats with gigantic doses of MDMA, to see if it might cause the same sort of brain damage as methamphetamine does when it's shot into rats in gigantic doses. As expected, they found that the brain-cell damage was considerably less extensive with MDMA, and responsibly reported that. And they never once reported that any human being would ever, even accidentally, shoot up an even remotely gigantic dose of MDMA, or necessarily sustain any least bit of MDMA-induced brain damage. But of course that’s precisely what all the DEA's pet media mouthpieces reported to the public, after they'd been fed the DEA's misrepresentations of this U. of Chicago rat study.
This was not the first time Judge Young had seen the DEA trying to turn responsible scientific drug research into witchcraft. "The MDMA was injected into rats,” he blandly noted. "The route of injection, which will make a vast difference in the meaning of the results noted, is not given in the DEA's report. Humans are known to take MDMA orally, not by injection. This difference is of great importance, and renders the test results meaningless for our purpose.”
And anyhow, this was no decent argument for putting MDMA on Schedule One. The appetite-killing drug fenfluramine, marketed for years now as “Pondimin” by the Robens drug company, causes exactly the sort of pinpoint nerve-terminal damage as MDMA might cause, and does the damage at much lower doses, Young noted; and Pondimin’s only a Schedule Four drug! At least the shrinks and lawyers trying to pry MDMA off Schedule One only want it to be redesignated to Schedule Three, where its unlicensed sale will still pull dire 20-year prison penalties.
So the DEA's own in-house judge formally decreed that MDMA ought to be shifted from Schedule One down to Schedule Three, where M.D.s and drug companies can exploit its demonstrated therapeutic properties. At this writing, though, DEA administrator John Lawn can still overrule his own judge, and decree that MDMA is going to stay on Schedule One forever. Lawn is entirely likely to do this.