Ecstasy can harm the brains of first-time users

November 27, 2006

Researchers have discovered that even a small amount of MDMA, better known as ecstasy, can be harmful to the brain, according to the first study to look at the neurotoxic effects of low doses of the recreational drug in new ecstasy users. The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

“We found a decrease in blood circulation in some areas of the brain in young adults who just started to use ecstasy,” said Maartje de Win, M.D., radiology resident at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “In addition, we found a relative decrease in verbal memory performance in ecstasy users compared to non-users.”

Ecstasy is an illegal drug that acts as a stimulant and psychedelic. A 2004 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 450,000 people in the United States age 12 and over had used ecstasy in the past 30 days. In 2005, NIDA estimated that 5.4 percent of all American 12th graders had taken the drug at least once.

Ecstasy targets neurons in the brain that use the chemical serotonin to communicate. Serotonin plays an important role in regulating a number of mental processes including mood and memory.

Research has shown that long-term or heavy ecstasy use can damage these neurons and cause depression, anxiety, confusion, difficulty sleeping and decrease in memory. However, no previous studies have looked at the effects of low doses of the drug on first-time users.

Dr. de Win and colleagues examined 188 volunteers with no history of ecstasy use but at high-risk for first-time ecstasy use in the near future. The examinations included neuroimaging techniques to measure the integrity of cells and blood flow in different areas of the brain and various psychological tests. After 18 months, 59 first-time ecstasy users who had taken six tablets on average and 56 non-users were re-examined with the same techniques and tests.

The study found that low doses of ecstasy did not severely damage the serotonergic neurons or affect mood. However, there were indications of subtle changes in cell architecture and decreased blood flow in some brain regions, suggesting prolonged effects from the drug, including some cell damage. In addition, the results showed a decrease in verbal memory performance among low-dose ecstasy users compared to non-users.

“We do not know if these effects are transient or permanent,” Dr. de Win said. “Therefore, we cannot conclude that ecstasy, even in small doses, is safe for the brain, and people should be informed of this risk.”

This research is part of the Netherlands XTC Toxicity (NeXT) study, which also looks at high-dose ecstasy users and aims to provide information on long-term effects of ecstasy use in the general population.

Source: Radiological Society of North America

Explore further: Do recreational drugs make us fail to remember?

Related Stories

Do recreational drugs make us fail to remember?

February 23, 2010

Have you ever forgotten to post an important letter or let an appointment slip your mind? A new study from UK researchers suggests that for those who regularly use ecstasy or other recreational drugs, this kind of memory ...

Ecstasy may be linked to sleep apnea

December 2, 2009

New research shows that recreational users of the drug known as ecstasy may be at a higher risk for sleep apnea. The study is published in the December 2, 2009, online issue of Neurology.

Ecstasy causes depression in pigs

March 10, 2006

Danish scientific experiments where Ecstasy was adminstered to pigs may help to explain depression in humans abusing the drug.

Club drugs inflict damage similar to traumatic brain injury

November 29, 2007

What do suffering a traumatic brain injury and using club drugs have in common? University of Florida researchers say both may trigger a similar chemical chain reaction in the brain, leading to cell death, memory loss and ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 29, 2008
"verbal memory performance", does that mean they stopped listening to clowns in white coats, well what a surprise.

Studies in Germany show that in fact within 1 month of ceasing to take ecstasy all neurological indicators are restored to normal levels even in heavy users (minimum 2 pills EVERY DAY for 5 years).

These corrupt little men (who rely on government funding to lie about E) are amazingly lying about E. I wonder if it has anything to do with getting paid to do exactly that?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.