University of Regretamine?

In so far as club drugs go, the jury’s out really. There’s none of the stimulant impact of amphetamine, nor the epiphany in a tablet associated with ecstacy.

But whatever your own thoughts, ketamine has been making plenty of people walk ridiculously around British clubs for years now. Just look for the nearest person trying to break free from the cement holding them to the floor, and then ask them what they’ve been up to for the last half hour.

It’s strange to think then that this horse tranquilizer, which can cause a lot of mess, is actually one of the least criminalised, though frequently used substances when compared to other ‘recreationals’. And it’s even weirder to pick up the paper and read about students getting paid £250 to take it at Cambridge University.

It’s unclear what to make of such a story. On the one hand, the fact that it was part of a PhD research project should suggest some degree of necessity, or at least real world cause for the study to take place. Then, to look from another perspective, if the Metro is accurate, and this was all to investigate treatments for schizophrenia, it highlights the nightmare of ketamine. And finally, is it OK to try and induce a state of mind similar to that experienced by people with serious mental illnesses, by giving participants animal drugs?

Needless to say, things are not so cut and dry. It’s unlikely what was administered bared more than a basic similarity to either the forms found in a veterinarian’s drawer, or that available on the street right now. And would it be better if a student, an experienced scientist yes but still, nonetheless, someone currently being schooled, were let loose to experiment with drugs on people who were already unwell?

Unsurprisingly The Telegraph offers more detail. Apparently the whole thing was designed to study a potential side effect of ketamine and a common sensation experienced by schizophrenics, dubbed ‘the rubber hand illusion’. Basically, whether drugged or ill, should a prosthetic paw be stroked while the subject’s own arm is tickled people can often think the fake is attached to their body too.

What remains unclear is if there was a purpose for this study beyond that. Surely the researchers then tried to assist in making these participants understand that the plastic hand wasn’t theirs. The main newspapers reporting this are conservative leaning, and so understandably offer all the quotes that don’t answer these last questions, so we’re not told if this was potentially the answer to some huge psychiatric jigsaw or not.

The people involved are quoted as finding the whole experience terrifying, with one going so far as to say: “I couldn’t find my way to the bathroom.” As we can all imagine, there’s very little scarier than that. Fun and games aside, what we’re trying to say is that this is probably a lot of hot air over very little. Nothing happened to these people, though some regret taking part. In terms of experimentation for experiment’s sake, this sounds a little along those lines. But then it isn’t the first time, or worst instance in which academe has squandered cash.

So, how else to see this increasingly dull picture that carried such an exciting title? Well, we could think about how it’s been reported, and start to ask some questions about everything that’s not being said by the papers. After all, there’s got to be neutrality when it comes to scientific reporting, and not least when it comes to drugs- prescription or otherwise.