Is the illegal status of drugs the best path to harm reduction?

A reaction to the recent death at the Extrema Festival

On the 17th of September, a 50 year old man became unwell while attending the Extrema Extra festival. He was rushed to the hospital where, later that evening, he passed away. In his pockets, XTC and other pills containing NPS's (New Psychoactive Substance) were found. Analysis of the XTC pills showed that they contained a high dose of MDMA, 175mg per pill to be exact. Even though it is not clear as to what caused the death of this man, the Belgian media immediately insinuated that his death was the result of the XTC pills he had with him [1]. They also stated that the content of MDMA in the pills was "extremely high”, claiming that these specific pills could therefore be deadly.

Without a toxicology and/or autopsy report, it is still unclear what the cause of death was and

whether drugs played a role. In laboratory studies, human participants usually receive no more than 1.5 mg/kg bodyweight, or a 125-mg fixed dose [2]. Furthermore, cites neuroscientist Dr. Baggott, who claims that for safety, he would not recommend taking more than 1.5-1.7 mg/kg and never taking a booster dose [3]. In addition, it is critical to note that a range of other factors can play an important role, such as an underlying physical condition, taking more than one pill, ambient temperature, or mixing multiple substances, not forgetting alcohol or certain prescribed medications.

Even though we do not advocate the recreational use of psychedelic substances or MDMA (XTC), we consider it part of our mission to educate people on the potential dangers of drug use. The issue at hand is that as long as substances like MDMA are not regulated, consumers have no easy way of finding out with certainty which substance or dosage they are taking. The illegal status of recreational drugs does not prevent them from being produced, sold or used. It does, however, prevent or severely limit quality control, age restrictions, supervised environments and evidence based education, and it promotes the development of NPS's. These often have a much higher risk profile than more traditional substances, but they are produced in order to, temporarily, bypass current drug regulations. Legally, this causes a Tom & Jerry situation, and we all know how that goes.

This is why we want to underline the necessity for government supported harm reduction strategies and a more realistic regulatory approach to (recreational) drug use. Furthermore, we would like to see the media inform themselves and do a bit more research before publishing these kind of hearsay articles with sensation or fear driven headlines. They play a big role in portraying facts and influencing the public opinion, possibly preventing the development of better policies regarding the recreational or therapeutical use of substances. If you want to know more about MDMA (XTC) and harm reduction you can visit the resources






[1] NL :


[2] Kirkpatrick, M. G., Baggott, M. J., Mendelson, J. E., Galloway, G. P., Liechti, M. E., Hysek, C.

M., & de Wit, H. (2014). MDMA effects consistent across laboratories. Psychopharmacology,

231(19), 3899–3905.


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