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Tuesday 18th June 2019

Party-goers take big risks with ecstasy

5th April 2011

Scientists studying the health effects of the drug ecstasy have yet to fully calculate for the dosages people tend to take at parties, according to a recent Australian study.


The researchers discovered that the way people actually use ecstasy in real life is riskier and more potentially brain-damaging than scientists had previously thought.

In some of the study participants, the researchers recorded blood levels of MDMA that have killed or injured primates in laboratory experiments.

Rod Irvine, a professor at the University of Adelaide and lead author of the study, said that taking multiple pills was likely to lead to very high blood concentrations of ecstasy, which could cause harm.

By gaining permission to study ecstasy use at actual parties, the researchers were also able to quantify the actual amounts of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) people took in practice, compared to the adulterants added to the pills.

Thomas Newton, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in the US, who was not involved in the study, said that most studies looking at MDMA toxicity in people or animals had no idea about the health effects of mixing and matching substances.

For the study, the researchers took samples of the pills that were being taken at parties, all of which purported to be MDMA.

They paid study participants the equivalent of about £130, at the end of the study, for allowing the researchers to take multiple blood samples at house parties where the participants took the drug.

The researchers managed to recruit 56 participants, all of whom had previously taken MDMA at least five times, intending to get a realistic picture of how ecstasy is used.

Most users took more than one pill, and some users took as many as five pills.

But only half of those pills actually consisted of pure MDMA.

The other half consisted of MDMA mixed with related substances, including the highly addictive methamphetamine, and some pills did not contain any MDMA whatsoever.

Irvine said that the researchers were surprised at how heavy people's ecstasy doses tended to be.

He said that their blood levels of ecstasy did not eventually drop off, but continued to rise, approaching levels that had been shown to damage brain cells, because the users simply kept taking pills, without waiting for the effects of the drug to take hold.

Newton said he believed the Australian research team had collected a very unique set of data.

In 14 of the study subjects, blood levels of MDMA exceeded the maximum level previously studied by scientists, as it would be unethical to expose people to high doses of a drug for scientific research purposes.

Irvine said he believed that it was valuable to get a sense of what risks people were actually taking.


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