Current topics explained by RUG professionals


Political party GroenLinks wants to legalise the drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy, to stop criminals producing the drug so the government can take control, instead. Is MDMA innocent enough to be legalised without issue?
By Christine Dirkse

Bauke Buwalda

Associate professor of behavioural physiology

‘MDMA releases serotonin into the brain, which causes its stimulating effect. It works kind of like the more well-known substances dopamine and endorphins. It makes you feel all good and warm and cuddly and gives you a lot of energy. So it’s great for parties.’

‘But I’m not convinced that MDMA doesn’t impact the brains negatively. While it doesn’t destroy any brain cells, it can have long-lasting or even permanent consequences. People who’ve used MDMA in the past may be familiar with the depression that can follow a weekend of partying (the so-called blue Monday). That’s because your brain releases less serotonin, making you feel worse and leaving you low on energy. Studies into the effects of MDMA on animals showed that this dip in serotonin can last for months.’

‘Colleagues in Amsterdam have also proven the lasting effects of MDMA on people. There are indications that it damages the white matter in the brain. The circulation in certain parts of the brain also worsens. This effect was mainly observed in heavy users. People who take the drug occasionally don’t suffer the effects as much, but they’re still there.’

Arie Dijkstra

Professor of the psychology of addiction

‘People naturally tend towards living their lives as low-risk and danger-free as possible, with as many fun things as possible. You see that a lot in our society: things like football, parties, or presents make us happy. We need those things, they make us feel euphoric.’

‘We usually do these fun things externally: we organise things with our behaviour and do things that make us happy. But you can also trigger that fun feeling internally, through drugs. Drugs give your brains that feeling of fun, without us doing anything physically or socially.’

‘Our current society has many more drugs in it than fifty years ago. It’s almost as though we want more of that internal feeling of fun. This need might have something to do with the individualisation of society and the breakdown of traditional religious and socio-political barriers.’

‘People want to feel like they’re part of a group; it makes them feel safe and useful and fun. The breakdown of barriers means these groups have disappeared. The effect of this has been proven in laboratory settings: if you remove people from a group, they will try to find other means to make them happy. The use of drugs can fill that – perfectly normal – feeling of emptiness.’

Herman Broring

Professor of administrative law

‘MDMA is currently illegal. It’s on the list of illegal substances. It’s very clear. But it’s impossible to enforce this. In the Netherlands, there’s a policy of tolerating the use of these substances, up to a certain point. This toleration policy can be kind of confusing.’

‘It would kind of make sense to take it easier on MDMA; it’s not like it’s a hard drug. So we might as well legalise it. Judicially speaking, it wouldn’t be much of an issue: laws can be changed. But on a European and international level, changing this Dutch law can lead to political problems.’

‘If the production of MDMA becomes legal in the Netherlands, people will continue to export MDMA to countries where it’s still illegal, probably more so than they’re doing now. So that would create a problem for other countries. I don’t think there’s enough support in The Hague to actually legalise MDMA. So they’ll probably continue tolerating it.’


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