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Article Summary

Ecstasy and Long Term Brain Damage

A major review of the evidence on MDMA (ecstasy) use shows residual long-term effects on brain function which is persistent even in former users, according to an article published in this month's issue of Addiction.? MDMA is neurotoxic and has been shown to cause long-lasting alterations in the brain serotonin system in animal studies.? The authors of the article set out to discover if similar changes occur in human brains.? They found evidence of subtle but persistent damage to the memory, weakening the ability to perform memory tasks, which lasted even for years after people have stopped using? the drug.? The authors conclude that "MDMA neurotoxicity in humans is not yet proven, but it is highly likely."

Heavy Users At Risk

Heavy users are at particular risk, and although they are in a minority, their absolute number is large given the widespread use of ecstasy: estimates suggest that in the United Kingdom alone, 500,000 young people use the drug each weekend.? The parallel use of alcohol and stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine may act synergistically to enhance ecstasy's neurotoxic effects.?? Furthermore, the typical conditions associated with ecstasy use - hot, overcrowded surroundings and long periods of dancing which raise the body temperature ? can strengthen the adverse effects.? And even a relatively subtle dysfunction in important cognitive, psychological and emotional domains may have a serious impact on young people and their still-developing brains, weakening their capacity to learn and to develop socially.

MDMA and the Brain

The precise mechanism of how MDMA damages your brain is not fully understood, but it seems to centre on a metabolite produced when MDMA reaches the bloodstream.? The metabolite is taken up into the serotonergic terminals of the brain and when it is further metabolised the serotonergic cells are deprived of oxygen.? This damages the serotonin transmission routes, permanently altering them.? The regeneration of the serotonergic pathways may take a long time, and never fully recover.? Serotonin is vital for the good functioning of many body systems, such as sleep and the endocrine system, as well as emotional stability and cognitive processes.

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