It was billed as an opportunity for scientists to investigate the impact of ecstasy on the brain.
But last night critics and viewers accused Channel 4 of turning Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial into little more than a ratings-grabbing advert for the Class A drug.
They also asked why the only expert to point out the dangers of taking drugs was given just three minutes of the 65-minute-long programme to voice his concerns.
The show – billed by the broadcaster as one of its ‘boldest projects yet’ – saw 25 volunteers, including a vicar and author Lionel Shriver, take an 83mg tablet of MDMA – pure ecstasy – or a placebo.
Each then underwent a series of tests, including a brain scan, while changes to their mood, memories and emotions were monitored.
Jon Snow, who is hosting the two-part series, insisted the research was vital because ‘incredibly, no one knows how [ecstasy] works or how harmful it is’.
However, many viewers complained that instead of focusing on the science, producers instead merely wanted to talk about the volunteers’ experiences.
Only one man, a former SAS soldier, was shown to have had a negative response, while the majority of the volunteers described feelings of well-being, euphoria, and warmth.
Viewer Sarah Durbridge wrote on Twitter: ‘Watching Drugs Live. Teenager watching too…. It’s a great advert for E – not what I was hoping for’, while Dan Darby added: ‘Think everyone is going to be on MDMA at the weekend after this great commercial on Channel 4 Drugs Live.’
Another viewer wrote: ‘Drugs live has made me want to do drugs for the first time in years.’
The trial on Wednesday, which operated under a Home Office licence, was funded by Channel 4 and led by Professor Val Curran, of University College London, and Professor David Nutt, from Imperial College.
He was sacked as the government’s drugs tsar in 2009 for saying ecstasy was less dangerous than horse riding.
Campaigners also pointed out that while just one scientist spoke of the serious risks associated with ecstasy use, both professors were given extra time to discuss their more liberal views.
Mary Brett, of campaign group Europe Against Drugs, said: ‘The whole thing was just an ego trip for Nutt.
‘He is a self-publicist and doesn’t seem to be able to bear being out of the limelight. It is anything for publicity.
‘This is not the way to conduct scientific experiments. You do research quietly, conduct it on lots of people, you write it up and publish it in a journal that is peer-reviewed. The whole thing was just an advert for taking ecstasy.’
She also claimed that while Professor Andy Parrott, one of Britain’s leading experts on ecstasy, tried three times to emphasise the dangers of the drug, he only got around three minutes of airtime.
The programme concluded last night by inviting viewers to share their experiences of taking ecstasy and discuss the long-term effects of persistently using it.
Niamh Eastwood, of drug charity Release, said: ‘The show did talk about potential harms and the panel was reasonably balanced. Its objective was a scientific study into the impact of MDMA on the brain and it met that objective well.’
A Channel 4 spokesman said: ‘The programmes aim to cut through the emotional debate surrounding ecstasy, inform the public about the effects and potential risks of MDMA, and allow people to discuss the issues raised.’