The debate over ecstasy continues: New study finds evidence of memory impairments with 1 year of recreational use

There has been significant debate in policy circles about whether governments have over-reacted to ecstasy by issuing warnings against its use and making it illegal. In the UK, David Nutt said ecstasy was less dangerous than horseback riding, which led to him being fired as the government's chief drug advisor. Others have argued that ecstasy is dangerous if you use it a lot, but brief use is safe.

New research published online today by the scientific journal Addiction, gives some of the first information available on the actual risk of using ecstasy. It shows that even in recreational amounts over a relatively short time period, risk specific memory impairments. Further, as the nature of the impairments may not be immediately obvious to the user, it is possible people wouldn't get the signs that they are being damaged by drug use until it is too late.

According to the study, new ecstasy users who took ten or more ecstasy pills over their first year of use showed decreased function of their immediate and short-term memory compared with their pre-ecstasy performance. These findings are associated with damage of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that oversees and navigation. Interestingly, hippocampal damage is one of the first signs of Alzheimer's disease, resulting in and disorientation.

The took an average of 32 pills each over the course of the year, or about two and a half pills per month. Some participants took as few as ten pills over the year and still showed signs of .

Lead author Dr. Daniel Wagner says: "This study was designed to minimize the methodological limitations of earlier research, in which it was not possible to say whether cognitive impairments seen among ecstasy users were in place before drug use began. By measuring the cognitive function of people with no history of ecstasy use and, one year later, identifying those who had used ecstasy at least ten times and remeasuring their performance, we have been able to start isolating the precise cognitive effects of this drug."

More information: Wagner D., Becker B., Koester P., Gouzoulis-Mayfrank E., and Daumann J. A prospective study of learning, memory, and executive function in new MDMA users. Addiction, 107: doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03977.x

Related Stories

Ecstasy causes depression in pigs

Mar 10, 2006

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

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 ...

Ecstasy can harm the brains of first-time users

Nov 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 ...

Recommended for you

Marijuana users who feel low get high

Sep 15, 2014

Adolescents and young adults who smoke marijuana frequently may attempt to manage negative moods by using the drug, according to a study in September's Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SDrapak
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 25, 2012
What about control subjects who didn't take ecstasy? Aging also reduces memory capacity, can they say that the decline exceeded normal losses if they don't have non-users to contrast the data with?
This seems like a much better though out experiment: http://phys.org/n...ers.html
SteveM
5 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2012
This looks like another 'scientific' study that relies on self-reported consumption of uncontrolled illicit pills. Is there any evidence that anyone in the study actually took MDMA? Unless the MDMA was administered by the researchers then the findings are not scientific at all.