'Drugs Live' Ecstasy Trials Earns Big Ratings for U.K. TV

"Trainspotting" star Keith Allen and author Lionel Shriver were among the test subjects in the groundbreaking and controversial series of news specials.

A controversial special on Britain's Channel 4 that monitors the effects of the drug ecstasy on 25 test subjects has earned big ratings.

Close to 2 million viewers tuned in to Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial on Wednesday night, The Guardian reports, and at least as many are expected to turn up for the second part, airing tonight.

That's a big number: more than three times the 600,000 who tuned in to the evening's second most-watched program -- an interview with author JK Rowling on BBC2's Culture Show. (For comparison, smash hit Downton Abbey's third season premiered to 9 million viewers earlier this month.)

The show gave the 25 participants one of two pills -- one was a placebo, the other contained 85 milligrams of ecstasy. They were then subjected to a 90-minute magnetic resonance imaging scan of their brains.

Among the five test subjects who appeared live in studio were British actor Keith Allen, who appeared in Danny Boyle's classic heroin-culture film Trainspotting, and Lionel Shriver, the female author of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Both had undergone their ecstasy trials while under observation in a hospital. 

Only one person was shown live in studio while on the drug -- a psychiatric nurse named Tom, who "sat rather calmly," the Telegraph notes, as host Jon Snow interviewed him about its effects.

The program has been criticized for being too sympathetic towards ecstasy and drug use in general. The man overseeing the trials, David Nutt, was previously forced to step down as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after making comments that suggested alcohol, tobacco and even horseback riding was more lethal than drugs like ecstasy, marijuana and LSD.