* Professor Mark Salter
* 20 November 2012
* The huge market for illicit drugs has been a persistent problem for politicians, parents and governments alike and will remain an issue into the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the demand for such drugs remains at all time high and one class of recreational drugs in particular – ecstasy, has witnessed an explosive growth of trade since it hopped from the therapy clinic to the club scene in the 80’s. * The modern scale of demand can be indicated by a recent UN reports that states 5.4 tonnes was seized globally in 2011. Ecstasy refers to pills, powders, crystals, capsules and other substances containing a significant amount 3,4 Methylenedioxymethylamphetamine, or MDMA, the actual psychotropic-stimulant drug and the ingredient of ecstasy in its various forms. It belongs to a larger family of drugs, amphetamine-type stimulants, popular around the world for similar reasons, namely affordability, lower perceived harm, association with a fashionable lifestyle and avoiding the stigma of non-oral substances. (UNODC, 2011) MDMA began its debut in medicine, adopted by eager psychotherapists in California and the West Coast who began to use it as alternative to the then recently banned LSD, initially for facilitating interactions in couples’ therapy. (Nutt 1) However, once the drug left the world of therapy it entered a stage of growing widespread recreational usage, originating in the nightclubs of Dallas and spreading like wildfire. By the mid-80’s it was prohibited, halting research but driving markets underground in order to meet demand that would continue well into the nineties, starting another rave scene, centred in Europe and reviled by parents and politicians alike. (Nutt 2) The consumption of MDMA results in the release of serotonin and dopamine within the brain, chemicals found in humans associated with bringing about positive ‘feelings’ and emotions. Consequently, a user of MDMA feels an elevated mood, strong feelings of well being, closeness and empathy when dosing, but users also report a mildly unpleasant ‘hangover’ effect lasting from a few days to a week. Moreover, some extensive studies in the past have suggested that heavy, recreational ecstasy use may be linked to transient and reversible neurotoxicity, especially when the drug is taken in frequent high doses. Yet still more studies need to be done to assess the long-term effects of MDMA as it is a relatively new drug. (Nutt 3) It should be noted however that surveying recreational users presents a challenge, as MDMA is taken where environmental factors can contribute to a harsh come down, including sleep deprivation, excessive physical exertion and other psychoactive drugs, which makes obtaining accurate data complicated. (Nutt 2) Needless to say, MDMA presents a unique case to enforcers because there are such few geographical limitations on choosing a location for manufacture. Labs can be placed within close proximity to their intended market, thus lowering the risk of getting caught trafficking end products across international boundaries. (ATS 12) This is clearly the case in Canada, where the RCMP continue to fight huge organized crime groups and traffickers in the battle against an explosion of illicit MDMA being produced in Canada destined for the US market. Organized crime is able to respond rapidly to law-enforcement by persistent adapting of production and distribution methods and continue to meet international and domestic demand. (RCMP 5) When a bust happens, the gangs disappear and simply relocate. Also worth noting is the deregulation that comes with black market drug manufacture and the problem it presents. Criminals looking to push profits at any cost will replace MDMA, which can be scarce after a big bust, with cheaper chemicals that replicate some effects. Much of the harm ecstasy users face comes from the existence of ‘bunk pills’ that could contain...