Friday, December 01, 2006

Ecstasy study turns dance floor into lab

ABC Science Online

The idea of being followed around a nightclub by a researcher bent on taking a blood sample and measuring your temperature may not be your idea of a good time.

But 'field' studies like this may be the only way to get the full picture of the effects of the drug ecstasy, or MDMA, says University of Adelaide pharmacologist Professor Rod Irvine.

Irvine, whose unique recreation-setting study of ecstasy was presented at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress in Melbourne today, says real-life studies of ecstasy paint a very different picture to conventional, controlled, low-dose laboratory studies.

"I'm not saying that we must go out into clubs and do naturalistic studies and that they're the only things to do, but those sorts of studies must be included in the spectra of what we're doing," he says.

"People out there will use much higher doses of the drugs than would ever be allowed ethically in a controlled clinical setting.

"So it gives you the opportunity ... to perhaps pick up data that you could never replicate in a laboratory."

Taking the lab to the club

Irvine's study, conducted with the PhD student Kate Morefield, analysed 10 people who took ecstasy in a party setting.

The subjects, aged around 27, had taken one to five pills.

Blood samples were collected just before taking the ecstasy and once an hour for the next four hours. Heart rate, temperature and blood pressure was also regularly monitored.

The study showed that using the drug in a recreational setting produced higher elevations in heart rate, blood pressure and skin temperature than previous laboratory studies had shown.

The concentration of MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, in clubbers' blood also exceeded those reported in clinical research, Irvine says.

"In recreational settings, individuals experience or tolerate physiological effects of greater magnitude and achieve considerably higher blood concentrations of MDMA ... than those reported in controlled clinical studies," the research, contained in a poster presentation, says.

By Judy Skatssoon

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