Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial – TV review

This week Channel 4 aired two shows aiming to show the results of taking MDMA and Ecstasy on different people. David Marren shares his thoughts after the first show, which aired on Wednesday.

For a certain generation – most of whom are probably in their forties now – Ecstasy was the drug of choice and an essential part of a good night out.

Heralded as a wonder drug which put you in tune with your emotions, broke down inhibitions, helped you bond with others, enlisted euphoria and helped you dance all night long to repetitive beats as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And for a while it was.

This live testing of the drug alongside with tests conducted over previous weeks commissioned by Channel 4 claims to be the first serious look at a drug which defined, inspired and changed a whole generation and is still popular amongst the young of today.

Totally legal until the mid-eighties the formerly named Empathy was big enough in America but when it hit Britain its popularity exploded and took root in a burgeoning club scene. It would seem the effects of the so called ”Ëœlove drug’ when combined with house and techno music brought on a heightened experience which culminated in waves of exuberance which came to be known as ”Ëœrushes’.

These Channel 4 experiments aimed to probe the different effects on different people – it is well established that like any other synthesised drug each individual reacts in a different way – and try to discover any similarities alongside any debilitating side effects or advantages to the user.

The programme itself was not wholly reassuring as bad sound and other technical hitches as well as jerky presentation styles did not make for a wholly convincing programme. The inclusion of a psychology expert aptly called Professor David Nutt went someway to redressing the balance and it certainly seemed as if having the aforementioned Nutt dealing with the ”ËœNutted’ guinea pigs was some producers idea of a good E joke which didn’t work quite so well when straight.

So what about the experiments then?

First up was Hayley who responded favourably to her MDMA dosage and came out of the scanner – personally I cannot imagine any way worse to come up on an E than being trapped in a confined metal space-with eyes the size of saucers and a loved up attitude so prevalent you half expected her to approach the camera with a slobbery kiss. If I had been in a room with her I would have shared my water with her, given her a hug and smiled in empathy and comprehension as she waved her white gloved hands complete with glowstick and maracas. A perfect candidate for the ”ËœDon’t Fight it Feel it’ maxim of the Primal Scream classic, taken from the ‘Screamadelica’ album which defined an era, she went with the flow and seemed to be enjoying the experience.

The same cannot be said for the second volunteer Phil , an ex SAS and military man, whose army training meant he remained controlled fought the effects of the drug. He was the epitome of the sort of person you would not want to meet on an Ecstasy experience as he would spoil your high with his rigidity and seriousness.

The whole point of the exercise however was to show the different effects the drug has on certain people and Phil aside most were enthusiastic and open in their approach.

New Scientist editor Graham Lawton and novelist Lionel Shriver were among the participants – we were thankfully spared Keith Allen pontificating about the drug but there is always the follow up episode for him to do that – with the former submitting quite willingly and Shriver complaining her dosage wasn’t enough (I am sure we have all encountered someone like that) but still being positive whilst remaining totally articulate.

I am not sure whether this programme offered up any new insights but I am curious as to what the second episode will reveal about long term side effects and damage or alternatively any advantages the drug may have.

Until then I am away to listen to Underworld’s ”ËœDubnobasswithmyheadman’ ”ËœScreamadelica’ Inner city’s ”ËœGood Life’, ”ËœBig Fun’ and the last Crystal Castles album in an attempt to get that Saturday night feeling on a dreary Thursday morning without the input of narcotic influence.

It is highly unlikely but the warm memories I have of those heady, halcyon days can take me some way back to that euphoric feeling and remind me why the drug was called Ecstasy in the first place and surely the fact I have memories at all is a good sign. Isn’t it?

All words by David Marren. You can read more from David on LTW here.

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