Brain Damage !!
You Understand ?!?
The government and newspapers have given excellent coverage to the negative effects of amphetamines ("ya ba"), so I will assume you are convinced that amphetamines cause brain damage.
You may be surprised to find how many young Thais believe that ecstasy ("ya E") is harmless, and who believe their drug-pushing and drug-taking friends' "wishful thinking" beliefs that it's not harmful.
The scientific facts are clear, and I document the effects of ecstasy later in this article.
First, I'd like to point out that people who have brain damage usually don't think they have brain damage. Likewise, crazy people usually don't think they are crazy. (In fact, they often think everyone else is crazy.) It is important to understand this. Friends will say "I've taken ecstasy many times, but I'm OK". Well, studies show this is not true. Most drug takers perform worse at tasks over time. Those who perform the same are usually trying and working harder than before. If they continue taking drugs, their life always goes on the skids.
I will try to explain in general terms how ecstasy works without getting too technical. Then I will give links to some technical articles and scientific results.
The word "ecstasy" means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary:
- Intense joy or delight.
- A state of emotion so intense that one is carried beyond rational thought and self-control.
A main chemical in the brain, called "serotonin", plays a role in both happiness and forming memory. It exists around the border between brain cells, and plays a role in linking brain cells.
Ecstasy works by acting upon the machinery of the brain in a way that results in excessive amounts of serotonin being released into the brain, thereby causing artificial happiness and stimulation of the senses. Users excessively love the lights of discotheques, for example.
Unfortunately, this process causes damage to the machinery of the brain. Permanent damage.
This doesn't mean that ecstasy will turn you into a retardo. Not at all. You may not notice the differences. But if you didn't know ... how would you know that you didn't know? Creativity and performance are difficult to measure, except memory tests, and people whose measured performance on memory tests degrade over time usually are not aware of this without the measurements shown.
Ecstasy is not going to kill you. But if staying alive is your only measure, then your standards are low.
It's somewhat like marijuana usage. Practically every study shows that chronic usage causes loss of ability to convert shortterm memory to longterm memory. However, many ambitious and well disciplined people continue to do well in school and their careers, though they tend to be driven people who will not stop short of completeness, and try hard. Most people show a significant decline in performance after they start using marijuana regularly, just like most drug addicts.
The same is true of ecstasy.
However, brain damage from marijuana usage is apparently reversable practically 100% from moderate usage, like with alcohol. Brain damage from ecstasy is different.
The more times a user takes ecstasy, the more brain damage occurs.
Ecstasy is not physically addictive, but it could be psychologically addictive, e.g., the person is a little bit less happy and memories don't form quite as easily. Just a little bit. Then, the reduced happiness results in a stronger desire for ecstasy.
How much does it reduce serotonin? There is the well known slang of "suicidal Tuesday" and "mid-week blues" after taking ecstasy on a Friday or Saturday night. However, there are various studies which show that users of ecstasy have a significantly lower level of serotonin compared to nonusers for many weeks after usage, and indications that some effects may last for years or be permanent.
How much the brain changes in the longterm is a focus of much debate.
There are animal studies which show clear damage and varying amounts of repair over time. However, it appears fairly clear that there are changes in the brain, and the effects of these changes are difficult to quantify.
The potential consequences may include depression, memory loss, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.
Wikipedia's ecstasy drug article references various sources, and states "The primary concern is generally that there may be negative long-term consequences that result from the drug's alleged neurotoxic effects on serotonergic neurons. Some further studies have also shown that this damage causes increased rates of depression and anxiety, even after quitting the drug. In addition to this, some studies have indicated that MDMA may cause long-term memory and cognition impairment."
Wikipedia's MDMA article states: "Experiments indicate that high dose or rapidly repeated MDMA exposure may lead to long-lasting changes in neurons that make serotonin. Serotonergic changes have been demonstrated experimentally in the brains of all mammalian species studied, with most studies involving rats. In these studies, the brains of animals who are given high or repeated doses of MDMA show long-term decreases in all measures of serotonergic functioning, including concentrations of serotonin, tryptophan hydroxylase, and binding of the serotonin transporter protein."
The permanent brain damaging effects in monkeys has been known back to 1995 by dissection of the monkeys' brains 12 to 18 months after they took the ecstasy, thereby giving a recovery time of a year and a half (broken like, researchers Cramer et al., Johns Hopkins Univ). The brain cells of monkeys were damaged. In some areas of the brain, the damaged cells recovered, but in other areas of the brain, the damaged cells did not recover at all, and in other sections the damaged cells recovered abnormally.
There are many studies which show various longterm changes in the brain of various kinds, usually not dramatic but probably significant, of which we don't know the psychological and performance impacts.
In humans, we can determine the effects by testing performance, e.g., memory. In studies in which large groups of users and non-users of similar intelligence and background were given tests, ecstasy users have significantly impaired visual and verbal memory compared to those who never took the drug. Memory is something that can be measured. Other effects have also been noted but cannot be measured by numbers, e.g., depression, anxiety, and other mood elements.
The shortterm effects of ecstasy has been well known, as the performance problems are worst in the week to weeks after taking the drug. What we are finding out now is that the brain recovers some, but probably does not fully recover, and the longterm effects -- years later -- are still significant. At present, we know of the effects only a few years after taking the drug. Interestingly, we see some structural changes to the brain, so that the brain recovers differently.
There are many objections to the research. For example, detractors have seized upon potentially flawed methodologies by some researchers. However, there are so many independent researchers, why base one's conclusion on one or two?
There's also the selective and false reasoning based on the statements of some established figures that "The effects of MDMA on the human brain are unproven", but that doesn't lead to the conclusion that it's therefore safe to use. Why take a risk?
There are many opinions on all matters. However, you need to review the overall body of research, from multiple sources, and see the basis of their remarks. Scientists will often say things are not proven, but that doesn't mean there aren't strong indications. It usually means there needs to be more research to further determine the mechanisms. Actually, there's a tremendous amount of evidence and knowledge out there already.
It's also notable that the people with brain damage usually don't think they have brain damage. However, comparing their results on standardized tests to those who never used the drug, the proof is clear in the data and objective scientific analysis.
The lesson here is this: Don't believe people who say ecstasy is harmless. What do they base their belief on? Their wishful thinking. What's right -- wishful thinking or scientific analysis?
Note: Do not report drug use to us. We are not policemen. Report it to the local police station and the schools. If it is your own children, then I suggest you consult with a drug rehabilitation center and one of their psychologists.
I'm for drug legalization and decriminalization as regards consumers. Some European countries have done this with proven success.
It is my opinion that the best solution to the drug problem is by educating people -- reducing "demand". Trying to cut back "supply" is costly, dangerous and usually not lasting. It treats the symptom, not the cause.
Where there is demand, there will always be supply.
Importantly: When drugs are illegal, the prices shoot up and the only beneficiaries are criminals. When criminals make a lot of quick money, they can buy political positions as well as police protection, and the crooks get stronger in society.
The best method, in my opinion, would be to give licenses to a few established pharmaceutical companies to produce the drugs and sell them at a cheap price via ordinary shops anywhere in Thailand. Each tablet or "hit" would be packaged individually, not put in bottles. The packaging would state clearly:
- A warning about the effects of the particular drug, e.g., brain damage and/or other side effects, in big and concise language
- Where to call, and a website address, for more information on the drug and/or drug addiction rehabilitation
- Export, and domestic resale outside of the packet, are illegal and severely punishable
- Guaranteed quality of purity, unlike the drugs from many jungle and home lab manufacturers and pushers, so that buying these packaged drugs is preferable to buying off the black market
Decriminalization bypasses the "pushers" so that the criminals don't make money.
The packets "educate" the consumers about the drug. It is important to have basic information printed on the plastic wrap. It could also have a small fold-out sheet with more information, like other drugs.
Throwing users into jail can do more harm than good. However, incarcerating resellers, illegal manufacturers and traffickers is justified.
Part of the money from drug sales could go into rehabilitation clinics and research. This "tax" would be part of the concession to the licensed manufacturer.
(Expecting illegal manufacturers to contribute to society in substantial positive ways is unrealistic. They just don't do good karma things with their money.)
Internationally, it is a reality that priority is placed on stopping the supply of drugs from the Middle East, because certain terrorist groups there are benefitting financially from supplying their enemy countries in the west with drugs. Less effort is put into cutting off supplies from places like Burma and Colombia because those people are just local crooks who usually pose no terrorist, political threat beyond their own region. If drugs were cut off from Burma and Columbia entirely, then the Middle East terrorist groups would benefit. Thus, Thais will need to solve their own local problems about drugs without much help from the outside world. I'm not saying this is "right", I'm just noting that this is the reality. Again, the solution is reducing demand, and providing alternative drug supplies from legitimate sources.
Look at all the money being spent on drug suppression, versus what is being spent on drug education. Importantly, money spend on drug education should not go into the hands of cronies and deadwood bureaucrats who just put out rhetoric while lining their pockets. It should go into the hands of truly committed groups and individuals with a track record of sincere efforts and effective projects that worked. And on the drug packets for all the public to see and critique.
Nonetheless, we shouldn't do just one thing. We should do them all -- arrest drug traffickers, destroy illegal drug production capabilities ... but education, foremost.
The Public Health Minister, known as Khun Sudarat, is following a good leadership policy, e.g., naming the next popular drug "ya ngo" (stupid drug).
What's a good phrase for "ya brain damage" in Thai?
Statistics from the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), the government's leading agency in the fight against illicit drugs:
Approximately one in 20 Thai people have tried drugs. About one in 200 is a regular drug user.
In 2002, the number of drugs-related arrests hit an all-time high of 215,209. The number of arrests dropped to 102,417 in 2003, 55,505 in 2004, 58,853 in 2005, and 2006 was keeping the same numbers as the previous two years. The Thaksin Shinawatra administration, which came to power in 2001, had immediately launched a crackdown on the drugs supply chain.
More than 2,000 suspected drug traffickers were killed during the six-month campaign that started in February 2003, surely based on a much larger number of previous arrests, plea bargains for information on those higher up, and turncoat undercover double-agents.
The killings attracted worldwide condemnation about Thailand's human rights record, but there wasn't much criticism among the general population in Thailand, and in fact the anti-drugs campaign has been very popular in polls among Thais.
To report international drugs trafficking, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
"Just say no!" is a good slogan, but it should not be politicized to be associated with a particular party, subculture, religion, etc. It should have universal appeal, and be conveyed by leaders across the political and social spectra, with no politics.
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