About MDD - Subscription Info
June 2002
Vol. 5, No. 6, p 14.
news in brief

Ecstasy on the brain

figureThe National Institute on Drug Abuse describes the drug ecstasy as a synthetic psychoactive drug with stimulant (amphetamine-like) and hallucinogenic (LSD-like) properties. It is also a neurotoxin that, in high doses, causes malignant hypothermia, which leads to muscle breakdown and kidney and cardiovascular system failure.

Rod Irvine, an internationally known ecstasy expert at the University of Adelaide in Australia, recently conducted research that links the use of ecstasy to long-term brain damage. “For many years, it has been known from animal experiments that small doses of ecstasy can cause severe damage to certain brain cells. More recently, evidence has started to accumulate suggesting that this damage may also occur in humans.”

Irvine’s research appears to prove that ecstasy taken on only a few occasions could cause severe damage to brain cells, potentially leading to memory loss or psychological problems. Because of these and other dangers associated with the drug, it has been placed on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Drugs of Concern list. Further research has shown that ecstasy damages the brain through its crippling effect on a particular molecule in a particular brain cell.

Although the abuse of ecstasy is not as widespread as that of many other drugs, it nonetheless rose significantly—a shocking 500%— between 1996 and 2001. The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimates that emergency room visits due to ecstasy rose dramatically nationwide, from 70 in 1993 to 2850 in 1999.

Findings from a Johns Hopkins/National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study now suggest that ecstasy use may impair other cognitive functions besides memory, such as the ability to reason verbally and sustain attention. Researchers continue to examine the effects of chronic use on memory and other functions that involve the use of serotonin, such as mood, impulse control, and sleep cycles.

The question still remains unanswered in each study: Is ecstasy-induced brain damage permanent? The Johns Hopkins/NIMH study pointed out that the loss of serotonin neurons in humans could last for many years and might be permanent. Tests have revealed brain damage in animals seven years after use of the drug was discontinued.


< Previous Article | Return to Top | Table of Contents | MDD Home Page