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Observations Medicine and the Media

Taking ecstasy on television: a show trial

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 01 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6621
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}

Channel 4 missed a golden opportunity to educate the public about how science is done, says Margaret McCartney, with its programmes showing scientific study of the illegal clubbing drug MDMA

The drum roll that Channel 4 sounded for Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial, its “ecstasy on television trial,” meant that even before it was screened (10 pm, 26 and 27 September 2012) the camps for and against had formed in the printed media. Channel 4 said that it was the “first experiment of its kind” to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the effects of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy) on healthy volunteers.1 David Nutt, famously sacked from being a senior drugs adviser to the government over his stance on drug taking and risk, told the Observer that the project had two purposes: firstly, to “show the whole process—from design to analysis—of a scientific experiment being performed”; and, secondly, to perform the imaging.2 The Medical Research Council had turned down the request to fund the study. Nutt said that the study had scored highly but didn’t fit with the council’s portfolio of research, so Channel 4 stumped up the cash. Nutt said that he should “be commended for finding a way to do quality science.” But was it quality science?

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