Growing up you believe the world is meant to be the way it is. The older I get the more I realise that this is not the case. The world is full of injustices and atrocities that governments and the voice of faith expect us to accept, though with each passing year they grow fewer and fewer, at least one would hope. I have created this blog as a space for me to rant about all things science, politics, philosophy and religion, before it’s too late and the vessel of new atheism propelled by a growing surge in secularism solves all of the world’s problems for good.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Ecstasy vs Equasy, which is more harmful?

A friend showed me an interesting article from 2009 today written by Dr D. J. Nutt "Equasy – An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms", it compares the dangers of two addictions with a surprising finding.

It compares the illicit drug MDMA, or ecstasy as it’s more commonly known, to an relatively common yet unknown addiction called equasy. What is equasy? Before outlining it specifically, I want to detail the potential for harm it has for anyone who partakes.

The data are quite startling – people die and are permanently damaged from falling – with neck and spine fracture leading to permanent spinal injury (Silver and Parry, 1991; Silver 2002). Head injury is four times more common though often less obvious and is the usual cause of death. In the USA, approximately 11,500 cases of traumatic head injury a year … … (Thomas, et al., 2006), and we can presume a proportionate number in the UK. Personality change, reduced motor function and even early onset Parkinson’s disease are well recognised especially in rural clinical practices where [this activity] is very common.”

Well it may come as a bit of a surprise to you but equasy is actually Equine Addiction Syndrome, “a condition characterized by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences especially the harms from falling off/under the horse.”

The study goes on to state that like illicit drugs, outlawing the activity of horse riding “…would completely prevent all these harms and would be, in practice, very easy to do – it is hard to use a horse in a clandestine manner or in the privacy of one’s own home!”. However, should society control harmful sports like horse riding, even if it could prevent injury to numerous people involved in it? Off course not!

“There are many risky activities such as base jumping, climbing, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, motorcycling which have harms and risks equal to or worse than many illicit drugs. Of course, some people engage in so called ‘extreme’ sports specifically because they are dangerous. Horse riding is not one of these and most of those who engage in it do it for simple pleasure rather than from thrill seeking, almost certainly in complete ignorance of the risks involved. Other similarly dangerous yet fun activities are rugby [AFL in Australia is one of the most dangerous sports in the world when comparing injury rates], quad-biking and boxing. With the exception of boxing, which is outlawed in some European countries, sports are not illegal despite their undoubted harms.”

I have often drawn this analogy between drug use and extreme sporting. Many of these “legal” activities are blatantly much more dangerous than smoking a single joint or dropping acid, and yet society will encourage you to partake in one and condemn you for doing so in another, hypocrisy anyone?

“This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates – indeed encourages – certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use.”

So how come harmful sports such as these are allowed, whereas comparatively less harmful drugs are illegal?

“…this reflects a societal approach which does not adequately balance the relative risks of drugs against their harms. It is also a failure to understand the motivations of, particularly younger people, who take drugs and their assessment of the perceived risks compared with other activities. The general public, especially the younger generation, are disillusioned with the lack of balanced political debate about drugs. This lack of rational debate can undermine the trust in government in relation to drug misuse and thereby undermining the government’s message in public information campaigns. The media in general seem to have an interest in scare stories [read on futher in the article for more info] about illicit drugs, though there are some exceptions (Horizon, 2008).”

For a thorough understanding of the comparison between the dangers of the two activities, using ecstasy vs equasy, I suggesting reading the journal article and having a look at table 1. I would like to point out just the first parameter of harm the table outlines “Acute harm to person”. One’s chance of suffering acute personal harm when using ecstasy are 1/10 000 compared with equasy where it is 1/350. That makes equasy almost 30 times more dangerous than the use of ecstasy…

All in all, I’m not writing this post to convince you to take ecstasy and avoid horse riding at all costs. The point is to make you think, question and debate the current legislation and so called “war on drugs” that western society seems to be carrying out ignorantly. There are more dangerous activities in our society that are aired on our TVs every night in comparison to the use of some illicit drugs, and yet we teach our children to stay away from “dangerous drugs” like ecstasy, while competing in competing in boxing and drinking oneself into a coma every Friday night with mates.

My view is, you should be able to do whatever you like when it comes down to activities that improve quality of living and happiness, whether it’s boxing, drinking, base jumping or dropping acid, so long as you are not harming others and do it in a responsible way. After all, it’s your body, not the government’s.



  1. I believe an argument may be that with horse riding, only the rider can be injured, whereas drug use impairs judgement/perception, meaning others may be adversely affected by intoxicated drug users.

  2. I have numerous friends who've been injured by horses and their riders when they themselves weren't riding. One of them was kicked in the face by a horse and put in hospital as the person rode past... And what about competitive racing, I posted today in ATR a link to that horse jumping death, that horse tripped over other horses and riders. So the ability to hurt others is still there. I'd say the the ability for horse riders to hurt others is there as much as it is for people on ecstasy to hurt others. Even if that were the case, it'd be still less than (or at worst on par) with alcohol. That's my opinion anyway.