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Australia: Drug Researcher Says Ecstasy Safer Than Binge Drinking, Causes Flap

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #550)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Responding to recent data suggesting that young Queenslanders are switching to ecstasy in the wake of a steep increase in the state government's tax on popular "alcopops," a leading drug researcher said the young people would be better off taking small amounts of ecstasy than going on drinking binges. Unsurprisingly, the comments have attracted criticism from some quarters.

ecstasy pills
Professor Jake Najman, director of Queensland's Alcohol and Drug Research Center, said ecstasy was "a lesser evil" than binge drinking, long a popular Australian pastime. Ecstasy is "relatively benign if taken in small quantities," he said. "When young people switch from a substantial amount of alcohol to a small amount of ecstasy... I don't think that's a bad trade at all. It is not likely that one pill on a Saturday night poses the same dangers as frequent binge drinking."

Illegal drugs kill about a thousand Australians a year, but alcohol kills around 20,000. According to a 2004 government study, 19% of 18-to-24-year-old men and 11% of women in the same age group had engaged in binge drinking -- defined as seven drinks or more at a sitting -- at least once a week over the past year.

Ecstasy is "cheaper and safer" than excessive alcohol consumption, Najman said. "Even drug-related problems, including psychotic episodes and violent behaviour are not seen with ecstasy, as they are with amphetamines and alcohol," he said.

University of Adelaide PhD student Emily Jaehne attacked Najman's statement on two counts. She said ecstasy was often adulterated, but that is an artifact of prohibition, not a property of the drug itself. Her second count, that ecstasy causes potentially serious increases in body temperature, was stronger. "When taken at hot nightclubs or rave parties the heightened effects could lead to severe brain damage or death," Ms. Jaehne said.

But while the risk of death from using ecstasy is real, it is also infinitesimal. According to a 2004 study of national death statistics, 12 people died of ecstasy-related causes in Australia between 2001 and 2004.

Still, that didn't stop Jo Baxter, director of Drug Free Australia, from calling Najman's comments "irresponsible" and dangerous. "There is no guarantee that if young people hear a message of so-called 'safe use' from people in authority, that they will use only small quantities. Taking ecstasy is like Russian roulette. No one individual knows exactly what it will do to their body chemistry," she said.

"A person in Professor Najman's position and with his qualifications is showing an extraordinary lack of responsibility, if his views have been reported accurately," Baxter continued. "The other aspect is that we seriously have to question why our young people are feeling the need to take drugs in order to 'have a good time.' We need to be giving our young people reasons not to have to rely on drugs for their social events. If we can reduce the demand, the huge volumes of ecstasy now coming into Australia would have no market."

Good luck with that, Mrs. Baxter.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Good for Professor Jake Najman, director of Queensland's Alcohol and Drug Research Center... speaking truth to power can be tough, not to mention deadly dangerous, when dealing with extremely deadly christian fundamentalists accustomed to killing or incarcarating those that dare to disagree with their delusions, deceptions, and dishonesty when worshipping an ancient evil doltish deity... mental masturbation of the sickest form... but!

When researchers incorrectly seperate the drug alcohol from the 'drug' equation you end up with a false, and deadly, bias towards the drug alcohol... which of course is the original gateway drug & benefits mightily from the 'cloak of social acceptability' bestowed upon it by our predominantly eurpoean ancestors.

I would suggest correcting the name of the 'Queensland's Alcohol & Drug Research Center' to its correct name 'Queensland's Drug... including Alcohol Research Center'. Make NO mistake: ALCOHOL IS A DRUG and to call it something else is a lie... the well honed specialty of the purveyors of gods & gov'ts... not the scientific community!

Ecstasy, as I recall, was a very safe & effective drug used by the psychiatric community for decades... without the deadly consequences that occasionally occur with irresponsible drug use by minors at raves who forget to hydrate themselves when dancing all night.

Truth is treason in the kingdom of lies!

Billy B. Blunt
Tacoma, WA

Fri, 09/05/2008 - 3:49pm Permalink
consfearacy (not verified)


Drug prohibition has been trying to reduce demand for how long now? 100 years? People like to get high. It`s a fact of reality. Drug prohibition has never been about the reduction of use. The roots of drug prohibition rest in the U.S.A. The records of history show it to be rooted in racists and bigoted ideaology. Look it up for yourself. Start with Anslinger. The idea of a drug free America [Australia] is hilarious. Imagine having an ecstasy high and hanging out with Willard The Killer boxing Kangaroo. It would be a much safer alternative to getting drunk and trying to box with Willard. You can bet on it.

Fri, 09/05/2008 - 11:22pm Permalink
Malkavian (not verified)

The researcher is probably right, but lots of people reading the about this research will probably wonder why "Ecstasy" needs to be consumed in small amounts to be less dangerous than alcohol. The predictable answer to this logic must be a "duh, drinking a small amount of alcohol is also less dangerous than binge drinking".

It's even a kinda valid argument - because won't people just binge on Ecstasy too?

Don't take this the wrong way, because I'm all for Ecstasy and I know it's a remarkably benign substance.

And those deaths because of Ecstasy`Damn, they have me puzzled to no end. I read the draft of a trial with Ecstasy that some of our Danish scientists were involved in (A PET Study of Effects of Chronic 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy") on Serotonin Markers in Göttingen Minipig Brain). The interesting part was that they had to go as high as 20 mg/kg for those mini-pigs before even seeing adaptations in the brain (which would disappear in 2 months of abstinence), but even at this ridiculous amount of MDMA not a single pig died and temperatures were only elevated slightly.

Thus one can't help but wonder if the majority of those "Ecstasy deaths" are really a consequence of impure drugs, a particular mixture of drugs (e.g. with alcohol and amphetamines)?

So much just doesn't make sense with Ecstasy. I know a Danish paramedic and he could readily report how "some young dude they brougt in is lying right over there and he's a totalt vegetable ... and he ate just one Ecstasy pill". Makes NO sense at all

Mon, 09/08/2008 - 11:23am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the major issues of having drugs people like to use be illegal is that there will be no controlling of how the drugs are made and what they actually contain.

I would guess most xtc contains more caffeine and meth than MDMA.

Good resource ->

Thu, 09/11/2008 - 6:47am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

When you've got some amateur chemist trying to create it in his kitchen its not going to be safe. If it was allowed to be made in a safe environment without two bit hoods cutting it up to make some extra money then there wouldn't be these problems. But I digress, alcohol is also very addictive and damaging to ALL organs


Wed, 12/10/2008 - 9:25am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I cringe when i look at all these comments supporting the use of this drug. I can look at a bottle of beer and find out three things, 1-Where it came from 2-What is in it and 3-and how much is in thier. It is disgraceful to see the amount of these people supporting the use of this drug. Are you really ready to place your life in the hands of a chop shop back room lab the produce's this drug for the amount that it costs? It is rediclious to compare binge drinking to taking ecstasy. Above all this it is illegal, the people make it are breaking the law the people who sell it are breaking the law and the people who take it are breaking the law. Which completly places this study to nothing more then rubbish in the bin. The bottom line is it is illegal. By comparrison placing one ecstasy pill next to a bottle of beer and test the dangerous chemicals in each. The amount of young australians who now reed this and change thier young minds to thinking that it is a SAFE drug can place thier lives in Professor Jake Najman hands. Professor shame on you. shame on your study. You have irresponsibly put these young lives at risk.

I do not write today saying the alcohol is safe. It casues large effect on familys and on the consumer. The fact of the matter is that the drugs in one ecxtasy pill are extremly more potent then in one bottle of beer.

I challenge Professor Jake Najman to take another test. Test the effect of ectasy on a animal subject by slowing increasing the dose and do the same for alcohol and find which animal sicums to irreversable effects first.

Professor Jake Najman you discust everything that Drug Foundtions fight to stop. Your irresponbilty will cost lives. And they will be young.

I Hope that a 16 year old boy can read this artical and turn to neither and decied to turn to education.

Mon, 02/16/2009 - 7:09am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Obviously, when Professor Jake Najman said that MDMA was safer than alcohol, he wasn't talking about ecstasy that you buy in the streets not knowing if it's really mdma. That is, what I believe, one of few dangers with ecstasy; you cannot be sure of what you're taking. And, that's why they shouldn't let the drug dealer make these dirty pills and why the government should put a control on mdma so that people could use it safely and advertised and conscient about the real dangers without being fooled.
Let the people know the truth about mdma

I hope that everybody one day will understand.

Mon, 07/06/2009 - 1:57am Permalink
Pablo Hassan (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Impurities in the illegal form cause a dangerous substance. If this were a legalized form of recreation then it wouldn't need to be produced by a hood rat in his bathroom - it would be made in a laboratory, and its contents would be disclosed, a dosage would be recommended and it would be safer than that bottle of beer that you are drinking. That is what the war on drugs has created, a black market. Legalize ALL DRUGS! restrict availability based on harm created, but in legalizing you will be removing the dangerous substances. The more dangerous the substance the higher it is taxed or requires a prescription - I believe this approach is aimed at harm reduction, not turning addicts into criminals or imprisoning weekend party people and turning hard working people with jobs that can afford social narcotics into hardened criminals with records that now cant get jobs and have already cost the government and public money for the time they spent in prison.

Sat, 08/15/2009 - 8:38am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Thats a pretty low statistic. I'll bet more people just dropped dead from taking a headache remedy. I also wonder how many of those 12 deaths came from the combining of E with other drugs such as alcohol or just being ignorant (like those who don't drink water OR those who drink too much - there is such a thing as water poisoning)

Tue, 09/22/2009 - 11:20am Permalink
Yo (not verified)


I must say that professor Najman isn't very smart, he practically said....oii kids go have some ecstasy instead of binge drinking....its better for you!

noppee definitely not! i agree with Jo Baxtor, drugs are worse and by having an ecstasy pill your risking your life because you dont know whether or not your just affecting your health badly or your slowly building up to death. Its stupid....not to say binge drinking isn't bad because it is but....i personally think taking ecstasy pills is much worse.

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 7:46am Permalink

First. Yes. Ecstasy is safer than binge drinking. that's actually what the article is about....


MDMA is not implicated in issues regarding the safety profile of ecstasy pills, but rather health concerns are with the mixing of other psychoactive chemicals used as binding agents in order to press the pill. Currently MDMA is in an FDA phase II clinical research program to turn ecstasy into a prescription drug to treat Post-Traumatic Stress. Phase I of clinical research trials assess the efficacy and safety profile of the drug. Read more about this here: 

This research is already in most advanced stages internationally, such as with The Israeli Army who have already begun implementing ecstasy in rehabilitating traumatized war soldiers back into normal society.  


Making ecstasy illegal actually made it more dangerous because there isn't quality control anymore and there might not even be any MDMA in the pill now. The impurities in ecstasy pills today are the direct result of the illegalization of the drug MDMA --which the DEA scheduled against the advice of the entire psychiatric community. Now that ecstasy is a black market commodity, the production which was one done by professional pharmaceutical companies, now s manufactured by (mostly unscrupulous international drug-gang cartels), but also in notable frequency, by kindhearted Ph.D. Hippie Chemists. 

This is where for your kids generation information is power. If your kids are going to drop E --& you should know just telling them not to work won't and you cant use lies and scare tactics either unless you want to loose credibility.

Make sure they know what they're getting themselves into (and no ecstasy doesn't put holes in your brain, all the research was debunked make sure you are up-to-date), make sure they know their source (the big thing I don't like about press-pill ecstasy culture is it does fund a lot of criminal/gang activity and Molly(pure MDMA in -powder form- is likely to come from a smalltime local source), have it tested if they can, drink water, strangers will be beautiful but not everyone is safe no matter how much in love with the world and magical it seems at the moment, etc. You need to inform your kids to make smart choices, not just tell them what to do. 

Let's face it, alcohol does deaden your nerves and nervous system. I would like to know how many marriages are also strung ling with a spouse who has an ecstasy addiction. And let's compare the alcohol vs MDMA violent crime stats, shall we?

Do I sound like I'm E-tarded to you? Now go and hit up your sons Frat party and compare. 


Aspirin kills more people in a week than ecstasy(MDMA) ever has. Come on people, you're not stupid. It might be difficult to accept that you might have misjudged something and I mean, the DEA did have a reason for disregarding the psychiatric community when they scheduled Ecstasy: recreational use had gotten out of hand. Such is the tale of the '60's-'80s and my generation is living in the consequences of yours' actions. We know we have to be careful. Some kids don't care, but we all know it. Why don't you go and apologize to your kids for inciting the STD era for the free love you had way back when, instead of hating on the way we enjoy ourselves now?

Fri, 09/10/2010 - 4:16am Permalink

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