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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Q&A: Ecstasy
Q&A: What are students' rights at work?
The row over the safety of ecstasy has erupted once again.

BBC News Online examines the risks associated with the drug.

What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy is an illegal drug. It is manufactured and is usually taken in tablet form.

It is related to amphetamine or 'speed'. It has a mood-altering effect and can sometimes cause mild hallucinations.

The cost of the drug has dropped sharply in recent years. Tablets can now be purchased for as little as 3 each in some parts of Britain.

The drug is commonly used by young people attending raves or nightclubs.

An estimated 500,000 young Britons take ecstasy every weekend. Surveys suggest that 15% of 16 to 24 year olds have tried the drug while only 1% of those over 35 have tried it.

What are the risks associated with taking the drug?

Most doctors and scientists believe that ecstasy is harmful.

Recent studies have suggested that regular use of the drug may cause long-term brain changes, including memory impairment and depression.

Others say it kills brain cells that produce serotonin, a vital chemical which regulates mood.

Little is known about the long-term effects of regular usage of the drug, but some doctors believe it could damage the brain and vital organs like the liver and kidneys.

Ecstasy is not regarded as being physically addictive. However, users can become hooked on the psychological effects of the drug.

Ecstasy has been linked to a number of deaths. Between 1993 and 1997, there were 72 deaths in the UK attributed to ecstasy.

This compares to 158 deaths during that time which were linked to 'speed'.

What does this latest study say?

Writing in the magazine, The Psychologist, scientists at the University of Liverpool suggest that previous research into the drug has been flawed.

They suggest that some experts have been biased and have interpreted their results to fit their view that the drug is unsafe.

They have stated that the drug may not be as dangerous in the long-term as some scientists suggest.

They also believe that the reported adverse effects of ecstasy may be imaginary - simply because most people now believe that the drug is harmful.

The scientists have also questioned the drug's effects on the brain. They believe ecstasy only affects nerve fibres, which can be regrown, and not cells.

Their research paper has been criticised by scientists in the field and the parents of young people who have died after taking the drug.

What is the government's view on the drug?

MPs have called for ecstasy to be downgraded from a class A drug to class B.

The Commons home affairs committee said the government was wrong to suggest that ecstasy was as harmful as heroin.

The reclassification would reduce the maximum sentence for those found carrying ecstasy from seven years to five.

Those supplying or making the drug would be jailed for 14 years at most rather than facing the current possible life prison term.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has rejected the call. He has stated firmly that reclassification of ecstasy is not on his or the government's agenda.

See also:

02 Sep 02 | Health
22 May 02 | Politics
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