I’ve written before about the inherent risks involved in leaving the production and control of a widespread product in the hands of relatively un-regulated criminal networks. Tragically, another stark warning of these dangers has come to light recently, with the deaths of, amongst others, at least 7 young Scottish people being linked to a tablet sold to them as ecstasy. It later transpired that the pills contained high levels of PMA – a compound that gives a similar euphoric effect at low doses, but at even slightly too high a dose, can cause severe hyperthermia, dehydration and death. Even worse, the definition of “too high a dose” varies wildly from one individual to the next.
The widespread distribution of these fake ecstasy tablets led authorities at the T in the Park festival to officially display warnings referring to the “Green Rolex” pills – a tacit acceptance that in the end, health is more important than law. Other countries have previously made this leap – the Netherlands is the most famous example, but officially sanctioned checking services are appearing in Belgium, Spain, Colombia and more. These services allow consumers to submit samples of a substance (which importantly, would usually be considered illegal) to a certified testing lab. Within two weeks, information is returned that states purity & dose, known (potentially dangerous) adulterants and the presence of any unknown compounds.
Unsurprisingly, statistics collected from these labs show an extremely low level of purity, with a huge variety of other substances used to cut the advertised product – some of which are actively dangerous to consume. I’m not going to go back over (or even as far as) the case for regulated legalisation of the softer end of illegal drugs again. Suffice to say that if even one more person’s life is saved as a direct result of introducing this tolerant form of testing, it would seem worthwhile to me.
However, the inflexible response to any structured argument for legalisation in this country makes me think that even this small step may be too much to stomach. Recent events prove that problems like this exist, and the reality that many young people will experiment is at least being grudgingly accepted by some in power. Clinical research into the physiological effects of widely available substance can only improve our understanding and examples set by some forward thinking countries can at least be objectively analysed as the real life experiment they are.