Ecstasy, the illicit drug loved by party people and dance club patrons, may harm parts of the brain involved with verbal memory, according to new research.
The recreational drug which is popular with young people, possibly damages nerve cells that respond to the hormone serotonin, which is involved in mood, thinking, learning and memory.
In study by researchers in the Netherlands it was found that even low doses of ecstasy are associated with decreased verbal memory function.
Dr. Thelma Schilt of the Academic Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam and colleagues recruited 188 volunteers with an average age of 22, who had not used Ecstasy but were considering doing so.
The initial evaluations took place between April 2002 and April 2004, when 58 individuals began using Ecstasy.
They were compared with 60 others of equitable age, sex and intelligence who did not use Ecstasy during the follow-up period.
All the participants underwent tests assessing various types of memory - including attention, verbal memory for words and language, and visual memory for images - at the beginning and end of the study.
Verbal memory was tested by memorizing a series of 15 words and repeating them immediately and again 20 minutes later.
Dr. Schilt and her team found that found that when users and non-users were given tests to assess their verbal memory skills, the ecstasy takers scored significantly lower and there was no difference in the drug’s effect between the sexes.
Ecstasy affects the cells in the brain that produce the nerve message transmitter chemical serotonin, a hormone involved with learning and memory and the scientists say the decreased verbal memory function seen is an indication that ecstasy is neurotoxic to the brain.
The study is published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.