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Ecstasy Might Cause Brain Damage

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Ecstacy/MDMA Side Effects

There’s more evidence that the wildly-popular, feel-good “rave” drug known as ecstasy can have potentially devastating effects on brain cells. And women who use the drug for extended periods are particularly susceptible to this damage.

Also known as MDMA, ecstasy is cheap, relatively easy to get, and seems more innocuous than other “recreational” drugs because it’s taken in pill form, not snorted or injected. Ecstasy is thought to produce an overall sense of happiness and well-being by affecting the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin.

Using the high-tech scanning device known as SPECT, Dutch researchers found that female heavy ecstasy users, when compared with light users, ex-users, and nonusers of either sex, had significant changes and reductions in the brain cells that transport serotonin. They report their findings in the Dec. 1 issue of The Lancet.

“Serotonin imbalance is thought to underlie depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and disorders of impulse control,” the researchers write.

On a positive note, the researchers suggest that the effects of heavy ecstasy use may be reversible, because the brain cells of ex-users did not show the same changes.

In an accompanying editorial, researchers from John Hopkin University School of Medicine in Baltmore call for additional, larger studies to confirm these preliminary findings and look more closely at gender differences and whether the changes really are reversible.

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