Ecstasy harmful to the brain even in small doses

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Dutch researchers have found that even a small amount of ecstasy can be harmful to the brain.

Ecstasy is an illegal class A drug that acts as a stimulant and psychedelic and is commonly used by young people both in the UK and the U.S. mostly in parties, clubs and discos.

But according to the study by a team at the University of Amsterdam even small amounts of the drug can be harmful to the brains of first time users.

The study is the first to look at the neurotoxic effects of low doses of the recreational drug in new ecstasy users.

Maartje de Win, M.D., radiology resident at the Academic Medical Center at the University, says they found a decrease in blood circulation in some areas of the brain in young adults who just started to use ecstasy and a decrease in verbal memory performance when compared to non-users.

It seems ecstasy targets neurons in the brain that use the chemical serotonin to communicate and 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 memory loss.

However, no previous studies have looked at the effects of low doses of the drug on first-time users.

For the study 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.

The results also showed a decrease in verbal memory performance among low-dose ecstasy users compared to non-users.

Dr. de Win says it is unclear if these effects are transient or permanent, but the obvious conclusion is that ecstasy, even in small doses, is not 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.

A survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2004 found that 450,000 people in the United States age 12 and over had used ecstasy in the past 30 days and half a million Brits are believed to take ecstasy each week.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).


  1. Bob Bob United States says:

    Keep in mind - even sneezing kills thousands of brain cells.  Does that mean sneezing is dangerous?  Perspective, folks...

  2. Or... Or... United States says:

    Amsterdam - Occasional and moderate abuse of the drugs cannabis and ecstasy does not lead to long-term memory impairment or affect ability to concentrate, according to a study conducted at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

    The findings are contained in a doctoral thesis by Gerry Jager, who conducted her research in combination with the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam.

    "Occasional use of ecstasy (an average of a total of two pills) or frequent cannabis use (several marijuana cigarettes a week over a period of an average of four years) does not lead to long-term abnormalities in memory or ability to concentrate, or related brain activity," Jager found.

  3. Lex Dogterom Lex Dogterom Netherlands says:

    Strange how the same researchers do another research, a little later, and conclude that "No significant effects were found of a low dose of ecstasy on working memory, selective attention, or associative memory neither at the behavioral level nor at the
    neurophysiological level."
    And here is the link to that research.

    Can't we just get one huge database that checks every single piece of information that appears in it for validity?
    Nowadays you can find so-called 'sources' anywhere, and even though they claim to be valid, they both conclude the exact opposite of eachother. This world is insane.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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