In 1997, the Independent launched a protracted campaign to legalise cannabis. Ten years later, an avalanche of evidence about the damaging effects of cannabis upon mental health forced the paper into making an apology for their previous stance. The latest fallout from Channel 4’s two-part documentary on Ecstasy shows that the station has not applied the Independent’s lesson to itself.
Professor Andy Parott from Swansea University’s Department of Psychology has said in a letter to the Telegraph that he agreed to take part in the programmes "with the proviso that I would be given time to summarise the scientific evidence on the damaging effects of the drug on the human brain. Unfortunately this did not occur."
Certainly, a couple of indications of sinister side-effects of the "hug-drug" in the first part of the documentary could have been explored but were left hanging. Firstly, one member of the audience who said he takes ecstasy regularly shared that he’d seen people die in front of him due to having taken the drug.
Secondly, a tendency to form good impressions of people while under the influence of E was found to linger a week later, after all traces of the drug would have left the body – indicative of a lasting effect upon the way users think, possibly even arising from changes in the connections between cells in the executive frontal cortex of the brain.
There’s a popular view, expressed by an anonymous commenter on my post on the first documentary, that "there's absolutely no evidence that legalizing drugs will create more harm". In a limited amount of cases it might not be possible to falsify this statement, but "drugs" covers a colossal range of substances and issues, and to make a blanket statement about even one led the Independent into an apology. Channel 4, take note.