Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Drugs advisory council not so ecstatic about televised drugs experiment

A Channel 4 programme about the effects of recreational drugs has been criticised for claiming to feature “ground-breaking research” on the subject.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 28 September

Drugs advisory council not so ecstatic about televised drugs experiment


A Channel 4 programme about the effects of recreational drugs has been criticised for claiming to feature “ground-breaking research” on the subject.

Drugs Live, a two-part series that aired on Channel 4 this week, featured twenty-five volunteers taking either an 83mg tablet of MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) – the active drug in Ecstasy pills – or a vitamin C placebo.

Neither the researchers administrating the drugs or the participants knew which tablet had been taken. The volunteers underwent a series of tests, including a brain scan and a trust quiz, where they had to decide how much they trusted people from just an image of their face.

Les Ivesen, the current chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said that it was misleading for Channel 4 to suggest that this was the first experiment of its kind. He told The Telegraph there had in fact been more than 60 similar human studies of MDMA’s effect on the brain.

“The dressing up of the Channel 4 project as ‘research’ is flimsy, and there is a danger that such programmes may glamorise drug-taking as a form of entertainment.”

The live programmes were hosted by news anchor Jon Snow and Christian Jessen, best known for fronting the medical programme Embarrassing Bodies. The experiment was led by Val Curran, professor of psychopharmacology at University College London and David Nutt, Edmond J Safra professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. The two scholars had struggled to get academic funding for the project before Channel 4 picked it up.

Ecstasy has been illegal in the UK since 1977. It is a class A drug and carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail for possession. About half a million people take the drug every weekend, according to the programme.



Questions for discussion


For primary:

  • Why do you think we need to be careful when we are taking medicines?
  • Can you think of any interesting science experiments you have read about or watched on TV? Share with the class.

For secondary:

  • Why is it important that more research is carried out into the effects of drugs such as ecstasy?
  • Do you think there is a chance that programmes like Drugs Live will encourage more people to try drugs?



Related resources


Make an impact

  • Look deep inside the body and see the effects drugs have on different organs with this PowerPoint.

Society, drugs and me

  • Help students understand the legal and medical consequences with this detailed presentation.

Hitting the headlines

  • Compare how the press represents drug use with the deaths caused by drugs in this thought-provoking article from Wellcome Trust.

All about drugs

  • From classification to how to save someone’s life when drug-taking gets dangerous, this PowerPoint is packed with information students need to know about drugs.

Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


Pupils are no better at aspects of basic maths today than they were in the 1970s, despite rising exam results, a major new study published this week by King’s College London has found.

Teachers in Kenya, East Africa, are returning to the classroom today following a three-week strike that forced school closures across the country.

Iran’s goverment has restricted access to Google’s email service and search engine, it has announced on state television.

The death of a giant panda cub one week after its birth has left staff at Smithsonian National Zoo “broken-hearted”.



In the news archive index