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TV Preview: Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial


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Tonight at 10pm Channel 4 will broadcast the hotly discussed and much anticipated first episode of its Drugs Live series.

The premiere features a clinical trial of MDMA, and is already responsible for a large amount of debate on the subject of recreational and therapeutic drug use. Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial will be presented by Jon Snow and Dr. Christian Jessen, and will aim to take a serious and hands-on look at the effect that MDMA has on the human brain. It will go about this by documenting the medical responses to the drug shown by a number of patients.

Eight volunteers - among them Lily Allen’s father Keith Allen, a female vicar, an ex-soldier, and author Lionel Shriver - will each submit to two separate tests. One test will involve taking a placebo pill before having reactions tested, and brain responses MRI scanned by the staff of Hammersmith Hospital. The other test will be exactly the same, but instead of a placebo pill an 83mg dose of MDMA will be administered before the tests are performed. The programme will include elements of live testing under the direction of former chief drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, as well as some discussion on the possible medical applications of MDMA in cases where its use may be called for.

The programme has been the subject of much discussion prior to its airing, with some critics slating it as an effort to shock the viewer into watching. The show’s producers, however, make the point that much of the information the public receives on drug use is anecdotal, and they apparently aim to turn this around by performing the drug test on national television. The outcome is uncertain, but testimonies from some of the participants in the experiment - Lionel Shriver, for example - suggest that viewers hoping to see a shocking spectacle will be disappointed. The author’s experience on the drug was apparently no more psychedelic than a bad batch of sushi, and left her chatting - to her embarrassment - about nothing more exciting than her fears for the value of the Euro.

Although the programme claims to be investigative rather than entertaining, it has come under a lot of fire for its participation in such a controversial topic. While some believe that Channel 4 is taking what Guardian critic Filipa Jodelka calls a ‘blunt stab at sensationalism’, others believe that the test should not take place at all.

When combined with the unpredictability of the drug it documents, it is very difficult to know what to expect from this piece of television. The only proof will be in the documentary itself. Two things, however, are certain: first, that since Dr. Nutt is one of the few doctors in the UK licensed to test class A drugs, it is unlikely that such an experiment could take place again; secondly, that this programme will be the subject of even greater debate once it has been aired. For these reasons, it is a televised event which should not be missed.

Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial will be shown at 10pm tonight on Channel 4.


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