Peanuts vs. Ecstasy - Which is Safer?

A New Scientist editorial poses this thought experiment:

IMAGINE you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

Correct answer:

You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

In the same issue the New Scientist notes that a recently published study found: 

...that on all tests except for verbal memory, ecstasy users performed just as well as before [they used it] and on a par with abstainers....the effect on [verbal memory] was so small - a difference of a quarter of a word on average from a list of 15 - the real world implications are questionable. 

All recreational drugs cause neurological changes - that's kind of the point of taking them. Long term downsides to ecstasy use may emerge, but so far its main effect has been, as the New Scientist editorial notes, "to drive politicians out of their minds." And to be used as an excuse to toss thousands of users into jail. The editorial ends with a plea:

We need a rational debate about the true damage caused by illegal drugs - which pales into insignificance compared with the havoc wreaked by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Until then, we have no chance of developing a rational drug policy.

See my colleague Jacob Sullum's excellent take-down of the anti-ecstasy crusade here. Go here to see my column on the corruption of government-financed ecstasy research. 

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  • ||

    Duh. Everyone knows that. This is exactly why peanuts should be illegal.

  • ||

    Yes, but peanuts don't help you have fun, so they're ok. Fun is bad, mm'kay? Especially if it involves young people and possible sexual contact.

  • ¢||

    the havoc wreaked by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco

    Always with this.

    Which surely doesn't reveal or reinforce a prohibitionist mindset.

    It's just some "havoc," after all. "Wreaked." By "drugs." That are "legal."

    No connection.

  • JW Gacy||

    I thought that MDMA burned out your seratonin receptors. Or is that just propaganda?

  • ||

    You should give them ecstasy, of course.

    Look, I don't know what the New Scientist's agenda is, but I'm giving that person the peanut. Why? Because if they're allergic, it will kill them, and I really want to rid the world of the peanut allergy gene. That's WAY more important to me than this random person's health. It's for the grandchildren!

  • ||

    A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill.

    If she's hot, totally the ecstasy. Otherwise, its a coin toss for me.

  • SpongePaul||

    peanut= deadly alergy
    x= serotonin blow out sale, fun, sex, more fun, more sex swallow repeat

  • jasno||

    I was also under the impression that MDMA could theoretically cause some neurotoxicity. The mechanism supposedly being that by dumping all of the serotonin out of your cells, the reuptake channels pull in dopamine, instead of serotonin. The enzymes intended for serotonin break down the dopamine and create hydrogen peroxide inside your cells. That's why you take a prozac after starting to roll - it blocks the reuptake channels and keeps the dopamine out. IANANS(i am not a neuroscientist) though, so YMMV.

    Having only really rolled once, I can say that it was one of the best experiences of my life, competing with LSD for pure awesomeness. However the comedown sucked and I really feel like I lost a bit of myself on that drug. Now, who knows what was actually in it though, given its illegal status. Also, psychedelics give me lasting visual problems(halos, purple snow, white noise), so I probably have something screwy in my neuro-metabolism anyway.

    But regardless, legalize it already.

  • JB||

    They are asking politicians to be reasonable. LOL!

    That's like asking God to come down and golf with you.

    Politicians are dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb; anytime you meet one, you should punch them in the head to make them smarter.

  • ||

    P.J. O'Rourke had a piece on ecstasy in one of his books - I believe his conclusion was that it was fun but hardly worth the trouble.

  • Orange Line Special||

    Great post, and so far we're up to at least three causes for libetarianism:
    1. Playing with mercury.
    2. Playing with lead toys.
    3. Being stoned all the time.

    P.S. Is there an Ecstasy Manufacturers Assoctiation or something?

  • ||

    well gosh - I guess it's my turn.

    Shut the fuck LoneWacko

  • ||

    And I managed to screw it up.

    Shut the fuck up LoneWacko

  • ||

    OLS: The New Scientist editors are well-known for their slavish devotion to libertarianism.

  • SpongePaul||

    mdma can produce neurotoxicity with high doses, not the dose on the street. It is the adulterants that get the club kids in trouble. pure mdma is a great chemical. but when mixed with mda,speed, cafine, RC's etc. the combos can become dangerous. mdma is much genler on the brain than mda, anyone who has had the pure pleasure of seeing and taking pure mdma crystals, as oppsed to street pills. There is a BIG differnce betwen the 2.

  • ||

    We need a rational debate about the true damage caused by illegal drugs - which pales into insignificance compared with the havoc wreaked by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Until then, we have no chance of developing a rational drug policy.

    Is rational debate defined as one were both sides of the issue in question are limited to demonstrable facts?

    If so, we have no chance of developing a rational drug policy.

  • ||

    domoarrigato,

    You must be a n00b in the STFULW corps. That's ok, we all were a little nervous when first donning the STFULW shield.

    Welcome and well met.

  • ed||

    Another vote for the peanut.

  • bill||

    The biggest danger for MDMA is actually overheating. This is what causes most deaths. It screws up your temperature regulation. Add in hours of dancing in a hot as hell club and you can get in trouble.

  • ||

    This thought experiment is silly. By their logic, if you have a lump of raw ground beef on one plate and a peanut on the other, you should give them the raw beef because the worst that can happen with that is that they'll puke and shit nonstop for 48 hours.

  • SpongePaul||

    ummm raw beef is just fine to eat, unless its old. kobe sushi, itialian thin sliced raw beef dish, i forget what it is called. thats the high end that i can pull off the top of my head. but remember in most countries eating raw/unrefridged meat is the norm. have you seen the way africans make sausage. its easy. get intestines, stuff ewith organ meats/fat/scraps etc. hang over fence in African sun for a few weeks. WE get sick form food posioning in this country because our diets are not germy enough. you can not have a tolerance to something you have never encountered. btw in develpoing countries allergies and auto immune diseases are almost unheard of. it is only in the "modern" societys that theese problems exist. The science says that hen the immune sytem has nothing to do, it gets bored and attacks whatever. yeah i know a vast oversimplifacation but hey!

  • Ska||

    Italian thin sliced raw beef dish = carpaccio

  • ||

    SpongePaul, I don't know if you're aware of the numbers of Africans who die from diarrhea. So your example may not be as convincing as you think.

    There's some truth to the idea that we're overprotecting ourselves from germs, but let's not go to extremes. There's a happy medium between slathering antibacterial soap on yourself every five minutes (and thus killing all the benign bacteria that crowd out the nasty ones) and consuming raw E. coli-ridden meat. Don't fall for the myth that our ancestors were some sort of immune system supermen who never got sick.

  • Willzyx||

    "ummm raw beef is just fine to eat, unless its old. kobe sushi, itialian thin sliced raw beef dish, i forget what it is called. thats the high end that i can pull off the top of my head. but remember in most countries eating raw/unrefridged meat is the norm. have you seen the way africans make sausage. its easy. get intestines, stuff ewith organ meats/fat/scraps etc. hang over fence in African sun for a few weeks. WE get sick form food posioning in this country because our diets are not germy enough. you can not have a tolerance to something you have never encountered. btw in develpoing countries allergies and auto immune diseases are almost unheard of. it is only in the "modern" societys that theese problems exist. The science says that hen the immune sytem has nothing to do, it gets bored and attacks whatever. yeah i know a vast oversimplifacation but hey!"

    So because there's a chance of developing an allergy, we should eat raw meat that has been sitting out in the sun for weeks?

  • Fluffy||

    This thought experiment is silly. By their logic, if you have a lump of raw ground beef on one plate and a peanut on the other, you should give them the raw beef because the worst that can happen with that is that they'll puke and shit nonstop for 48 hours.

    Um...no. That's not their logic.

    Their logic says that if you compare the possible harms from each choice, they are identical [death] but that the harm occurs more frequently for one choice [peanuts] then for the other.

    If you switched one of the choices to raw beef, that changes the math, because the possible harms are no longer identical. Raw beef is associated with a range of harms that are less severe, but are much more frequent.

    Comparing raw beef to ecstasy would require us to make a judgment about whether having a high chance of experiencing a minor health harm outweighs having a small chance of death. But comparing peanuts to ecstasy doesn't require us to make any such judgment - we just need to decide whether we prefer a small chance at death, or an even smaller chance at death. [I choose the former.]

  • Fluffy||

    Well OK, I actually choose the latter. Got a little tangled there. Must be all the E I'm doing right now.

  • ||

    Well OK, I actually choose the latter. Got a little tangled there. Must be all the E I'm doing right now.

    Please tell me this is true, Fluffy. Especially considering all the Vicodin I'm on right now.

  • ||

    For drug warriors, getting high is itself a crime. That is their crutch argument. You could come up with a drug that has no side effects, no long-term pathologies, no adverse affects of any kind no matter how much or how long you use it, and no potential for addiction, and drug warriors would still crusade against it because it got people high.

    To a drug warrior, being high is a crime. That is the keystone of their moral crusade against the use of drugs.

  • ||

    You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

    This is surprising. I would have expected New Scientist to say something like

    You should give them peanuts, of course, in the hope of causing an fatal acute reaction. If they do, you should compost the remains, then ride your bike to work.

    I really hate those fuckers.

  • ||

    So because there's a chance of developing an allergy, we should eat raw meat that has been sitting out in the sun for weeks?

    Exactly. We should require children to drink out of the toilet bowl, and then go swimming in the sewer system once a month or so, to keep their immune systems in good shape. It's like a treadmill for your leukocytes!

    The ONLY way you can ever get a bacterial infection is if you don't consume enough raw sewage.

  • ||

    Fluffy,

    It may be true that in the final analysis ecstasy is still safer than peanuts on average. What I take issue with is the reason that NS concludes this is so:

    You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

    You could substitute "raw E. coli ridden ground beef" for MDMA in that sentence and it would still hold true.

  • cuernimus||

    I never understood the logic behind exposing yourself to large amounts of infectious diseases to make yourself healthier, as though being kinda sick all the time is better than being really sick some of the time. Saying there are no allergies or autoimmune diseases in the developing world as proof that it is better shows you haven't really thought it through; if you have an autoimmune disease and lack access to medicine or are allergic to a main component of your diet, you are not going to be living with your condition for very long.

  • ed||

    In certain parts of California, it is illegal to carry a bag of peanuts within 1000 feet of a school, church or movie theater. Probably.

  • BakedPenguin||

    There is probably some sort of Laffer curve equation for the correct amount of infection-stress your body needs to maximize immune system potential without having negative long-term effects.

    One of the biggest killers in the Civil War was infectious disease among farm boys. All the city dwellers had spent their lives passing around bugs, while the farmers lived in the clean air. Then, when they got into large groups, they weren't used to the infections.

    Also, consider how a much larger percentage of Central and Southern American Indians survived than North American Indians. The Aztecs, Incas & Mayans lived in cities, and probably had much more reactive immune systems.

    Still, that can easily be carried too far. There is a reason why third world countries often have life expectancies ~ 20 years lower than first world countries.

  • sqrrl101||

    Professor David Nutt, pharmacologist and head of the UK's Advisory Council on the Misuse of drugs argues that it should be downgraded in classification, and that the danger from Ecstasy use is less than that of horse-riding. This comes after a 2006 report partially authored by Nutt which advised that LSD and Ecstasy are less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. Of course, the UK government doesn't care about evidence based decision making and would rather win votes by appearing tough on the "evil drug menace" and so have completely ignored the advice. They've also changed the classification of cannabis to allow for more severe sentences.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7882708.stm
    http://www.jcrows.com/alcoholisdeadlierthanecstasy.html

  • LarryA||

    We need a rational debate about the true damage caused by illegal drugs - which pales into insignificance compared with the havoc wreaked by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

    Except that the nanny answer to the above debate is to make alcohol illegal and expand the already-existing movement to make tobacco illegal.

    We need a rational debate about the true damage caused by illegal drugs - which pales into insignificance compared with the havoc wreaked by the War on Drugs.

    You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

    If you give them the peanut and they die you can say, "Oops. I didn't know they were allergic. But they should have." You go free, and might even win the civil suit.

    If you give them ecstasy and they die you're a drug dealer and a murderer. Death penalty. Even if they don't die you're a drug dealer, and still screwed for life. And the civil suit is a slam-dunk.

    Therefore it's safer for you to greatly increase the risk to their life. This is typical of the unintended consequence function of the WoD.

  • cuernimus||

    There is probably some sort of Laffer curve equation for the correct amount of infection-stress your body needs to maximize immune system potential without having negative long-term effects.


    Certainly. Even though all stress on the body has negative effects, if you find yourself being forced to drink doody water, you are better off if you have a long history of exposure to it. But I do find the notion that we'd all be healthier if we'd just slurp down our jenkem water to be rather ridiculous.

  • Anne Keckler||

    Fun is bad, mm'kay? Especially if it involves young people and possible sexual contact.

    Epi, you hit the nail on the head! This is exactly why quaaludes were outlawed in the 1980's: girls were using them to enhance their sexual experiences. We can't have a bunch of slutty girls enjoying sex!

    Aren't you glad the government is there to protect you from that? ;-)

  • ||

    if you find yourself being forced to drink doody water, you are better off if you have a long history of exposure to it.

    ...but if you had a long history of exposure to it there would be a higher chance you're already dead. It's a chicken and egg thing. (or maybe a salmonella and egg thing)

  • Stacy||

    It really makes me sad when I talk to people and they think that marijuana, LSD, and shrooms (especially) KILL people. Is this what they teach these kids in the classroom?

    And then these same kids go to a kegger every weekend and think that drinking is better.

  • ||

    Is this what they teach these kids in the classroom?

    Yes.

  • ||

    Either one peanut or one pill? Tell him to take a handful of both and then rework your numbers. Let me know how it comes out.

  • ||

    How about aflatoxin in peanuts? BIG problem.

  • perlhaqr||

    The biggest danger for MDMA is actually overheating. This is what causes most deaths. It screws up your temperature regulation. Add in hours of dancing in a hot as hell club and you can get in trouble.

    That's GHB. Next!

  • ||

    It is MDMA as well

  • Mark Zolinski||

    I’ve been a long time user and fan of MDMA, but I don’t like the negative side effects and health problems that are associated with it; so I was in route for a legal healthier alternative. I tried a lot of legal products on the market, but it was all hype. The closest thing on the market is a product called, Trip2Night that can give you similar euphoric effects and lasts around 5 to 6 hours.

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