New study finds no cognitive impairment among ecstasy users

Feb 15, 2011

The drug known as ecstasy has been used by 12 million people in the United States alone and millions more worldwide. Past research has suggested that ecstasy users perform worse than nonusers on some tests of mental ability.
But there are concerns that the methods used to conduct that research were flawed, and the experiments overstated the cognitive differences between ecstasy users and nonusers.

In response to those concerns, a team of researchers has conducted one of the largest studies ever undertaken to re-examine the cognitive effects of ecstasy, funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published today in the journal Addiction. The study was specifically designed to minimize the methodological limitations of earlier research.

In contrast to many prior studies, ecstasy users in the new study showed no signs of attributable to : ecstasy use did not decrease .

Lead author John Halpern is quick to point out that this group of researchers is not the first to identify limitations in prior studies of ecstasy users. "Researchers have known for a long time that earlier studies of ecstasy use had problems that later studies should try to correct. When NIDA decided to fund this project, we saw an opportunity to design a better experiment and advance our knowledge of this drug."

The researchers fixed four problems in earlier research on ecstasy. First, the non-users in the experiment were members of the "rave" subculture and thus repeatedly exposed to and fluid deprivation from all-night dancing -- factors that themselves can produce long-lasting cognitive effects.

Second, participants were screened for drug and alcohol use on the day of cognitive testing, to make sure all participants were tested while 'clean'.

Third, the study chose ecstasy users who did not habitually use other drugs that might themselves contribute to cognitive impairment.

Finally, the experiment corrected for the possibility that any cognitive impairment shown by ecstasy users might have been in place before they started using the drug.

The resulting experiment whittled 1500 potential participants down to 52 carefully chosen ecstasy users, whose cognitive function was compared against 59 closely-matched non-users, with tests administered at several stages to make sure participants were telling the truth about their drug and alcohol use.

So does this mean that ecstasy really is the risk-free, hangover-free, miracle drug that lets young ravers and gamers party all weekend without having to pay the price?

Says Halpern, "No. Ecstasy consumption is dangerous: illegally-made pills can contain harmful contaminants, there are no warning labels, there is no medical supervision, and in rare cases people are physically harmed and even die from overdosing. It is important for drug-abuse information to be accurate, and we hope our report will help upgrade public health messages. But while we found no ominous, concerning risks to cognitive performance, that is quite different from concluding that ecstasy use is 'risk-free'."

Explore further: Experts denounce clinical trials of unscientific, 'alternative' medicines

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User comments : 6

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gunslingor1
5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2011
The biggest danger for this drug, getting arrested and sent to prison for carrying it... far outways any danger to one's health.
EarthlingX
5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2011
If it would be legal, made under medical supervision, properly labelled, there would be less damage and less cost to society.
JRDarby
3 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
Surprise, surprise. Controlling for polydrug use, environmental variables, and purity of the chemical administered produced no measurable cognitive effects. And this from NIDA of all places! What is the world coming to?

"Ecstasy consumption is dangerous: illegally-made pills can contain harmful contaminants, there are no warning labels, there is no medical supervision, and in rare cases people are physically harmed and even die from overdosing."

So if we legalized and regulated it you're saying that these problems would be drastically mitigated? And this has never occurred to anyone before you say? How strange!
JRDarby
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
Lest my last post seem too sarcastic, I would like to, on a more serious note, add that if the government, through NIDA, really wanted to mitigate harm to citizens it would fund more studies like this and less like Ricaurte's--which, incidentally, is still cited on NIDA's website.

www DOT maps DOT org/mdma/studyresponse.html

I think that more research needs to be done on MDMA and other chemicals to elucidate any inherent toxicity, contraindications, and so on. But it's counterintuitive to conduct studies if your end-goal is not to do research but to validate moralistic objections to "drug use" (from people for whom all drug use is "drug abuse"--look at NIDA's website if you don't believe me).

I support this study because the researchers appear to have taken a serious approach to the subject, and a serious approach is necessary if lives really are at stake.
Birthmark
not rated yet Feb 15, 2011
I honestly am upset that weed, hemp, acid, shrooms, and several other drugs are not legal yet...This is ridiculous, it would reduce crime and drug abuse.

The more you deny something the more popular it gets.
insignificant_fish
not rated yet Feb 16, 2011
governments exist to rule you, not empower you.

The biggest danger for this drug, getting arrested and sent to prison for carrying it... far outways any danger to one's health.


Such suggestions are pointless since society is the threat in your comment and the drug is irrelevant and might as well be information or some other object. the keys to your fathers car will not ground you for driving without permission.

if you want to be free to "do," start your own country.