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Ecstasy use leads to brain damage

12th April 2011

People who use the illegal drug commonly known as ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA) have a high risk of permanently damaging their brains, according to a recent Dutch study.

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Using advanced brain scanning techniques, researchers found that regular, long-term use of ecstasy caused both memory loss and increased people's risk of Alzheimer's disease.

The study authors said they had found preliminary evidence that MDMA caused damage to the hippocampus.

They said that looking for hippocampal atrophy was a common way of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease in elderly patients.

For the study, the researchers recruited 10 men who had all taken somewhere around 250-300 ecstasy tablets over the past six-and-a-half years.

The researchers also found seven other study subjects who had not taken any ecstasy, though they had taken taken other drugs over the same period of time.

The study subjects were matched for age and gender, and people who had not used at least 50 tablets of ecstasy were excluded from the ecstasy-taking group.

The researchers also made sure people had abstained from taking any drugs for at least two weeks before the study began.

While some studies have shown ecstasy could cause significant memory impairment, the researchers in this study used volumetric magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI) to quantify the brain damage.

The researchers found that the ecstasy-using group had an average shrinkage of 10.5% in the hippocampus, as well as an average shrinkage of 4.6% to the brain's grey matter, where signals arise from the nervous system.

The researchers said that the recent finding was in line with other reports about MDMA, including ones in which MDMA played the role of a neurotoxin in non-human primates and other mammals, visibly killing neurons that dealt with serotonin uptake.

They said that, since the hippocampus played an essential role in long-term memory, the recent study confirmed findings in which ecstasy users only performed well in cognitive tests that did not include a memory test.

 

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