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Article Summary

Ecstasy Use Affects Memory

Survey Reveals Long-Term Memory Problems

People who take the recreational drug Ecstasy risk impairing their memory, according to an international study which surveyed 763 people, including 480 users of the drug and 81 chronic users.

The study found that those who regularly took Ecstasy suffered from long-term memory difficulties and were 23 percent more likely to report problems with remembering things than non-users.

The British research team, led by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, also questioned volunteers about their use of other drugs. It found those who regularly used marijuana reported up to 20 per cent more memory problems than non-users. BUt for these users, short-term memory was mainly affected.

Cognitive Time Bomb

Because evidence has shown Ecstasy users are likely to use other drugs, including marijuana, the researchers say they are vulnerable to a myriad of memory afflictions which may represent a 'time bomb' of cognitive problems for later life.

Until this study, little has been known about the impact of ecstasy and other drug use on everyday and long-term memory, the authors reported.

The research team based their findings on responses from 763 participants but they also looked closely at a sub-group of 81 'typical' ecstasy users who had taken the drug at least ten times.

Errors and Memory Loss

As well as assessing the volunteers' responses to the memory tests, the team recorded the number of mistakes made when filling in the online questionnaire.

They found the group of 'typical users' reported their long-term memory to be 14 per cent worse than the 480 people who had never taken Ecstasy and 23 per cent worse than the 242 non-drug users.

This group also made 21 per cent more errors on the questionnaire form than non-ecstasy users and 29 per cent more mistakes than people who did not take drugs at all.

Subtle Effects of Ecstasy

Lead researcher Dr. Jacqui Rodgers, of Newcastle University, said: "We all know of cases where people have suffered acutely from the use of Ecstasy, but relatively little is known about the more subtle effects on the increasing number of regular users worldwide.

"Users may think that ecstasy is fun and that it feels fairly harmless at the time. However, our results show slight but measurable impairments to memory as a result of use, which is worrying.

Double Whammy' Memory Loss

"It's equally concerning that we don't really know what the long-term effects of ecstasy use will be, as it is still a poorly understood drug. The results indicate that users are potentially creating a time bomb of potential cognitive difficulties in later life."

"The findings also suggest that ecstasy users who use mariuana are suffering from a 'double whammy' where both their long-term and short-term memory is being impaired."

Dr. Rodgers, of the School of Neurology, Neurobiology & Psychiatry, said the results could change drug therapy techniques. "The findings may help drug services in the UK and elsewhere to explain the potential consequences of use so that people can make an informed decision as to whether to take ecstasy or not."

The study also found no significant differences between results from male and female participants.

Source: Results of the study were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in January 2004.

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