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Drugs live. 1/2, The ecstasy trial.

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About this work


In the first of two programmes; Jon Snow and Dr Christian Jessen follow an officially licensed trial in which 25 people took MDMA, the pure form of the recreational drug ecstasy, for scientific study. Split between footage of the trial and a live studio discussion the programme aims to discuss the effects and potential risks of MDMA. The designers of the trial were Professor David Nutt and Professor Val Curran. The objective was to provide clinical evidence of its effects on the brain. Live from Hammersmith Hospital, Tom Hume completes his part of the trail. The format of the trial involves participants visiting the test centre twice (with a week apart) where they were each administered a capsule; this was in a ‘double blind’ trial; both participant and scientist were unaware whether the capsule was a placebo. Participants underwent 90 minutes of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) whilst simultaneously being asked questions. Using a large model of the brain and fMRI scans, Nutt identified the changes to the brain caused by MDMA. It was found that MDMA affects the ‘default mode network’ which is responsible for generating and regulating the sense of self. Serotonin has a powerful control of this circuit and the increases in serotonin dampened it, reducing stress and causing euphoria. Footage is shown of professor Alexander Shulgin who is credited with popularising MDMA in the 70’s. Not surprisingly, people react differently to the same dose of the drug; psychological processes such as cognitive control can change drug responses. This brings in to question the use of MDMA in treating soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The social bonding effect of MDMA was examined in the trial through a test in which participants invested money in people dependent on their ‘trustworthiness’. In a studio discussion, Snow and the audience explore the ideas of long term friendships and bonding brought about by MDMA.



Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, colour ; 12 cm.


Broadcast on 26th September 2012 on Channel 4.
Notable participants include the writer Lionel Shriver, actor Keith Allen, MP Evan Harris and deputy editor of New Scientist Graham Lawton.

Creator/production credits

Presented by Jon Snow and Dr Christian Jessen.
Produced by Dan Murdoch and Barney Newman.

Copyright note

Renegade Pictures (UK) Ltd



  • English

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