Ecstasy has now been proven harmful, even when taken in small doses by new users.
While previous clinical studies have proven that usage of MDMA, the serotonergic acting drug commonly called ecstasy, can have profound and lasting implications; Dutch researchers have found that even initial and limited exposure to the drug causes brain damage and leads to decreases in cognitive testing performances.
Heavy ecstasy use can cause depression, insomnia, irritability, confusion, poor cognition and poor memory performance; and this is not entirely surprising since the drug acts through a process of serotonin modification, and serotonin is uniquely important for mood and memory in the brain. Researchers previously however had no idea how much ecstasy use was required to cause these deficits, and how much impact a small amount of the drug would have.
A Dutch research group aimed to change this and undertook a before and after study of 188 volunteers who had never previously tried the drug, but were deemed at a high risk to try the drug in the future. Researchers performed brain scans on the volunteers before exposure to the drug, and additionally performed cognitive and memory testing on the subjects. After 18 months, 59 of these subjects had tried ecstasy, and they had consumed an average of 6 tablets each during this time period.
The rest of the volunteers had not.
The same scanning and testing was again performed, and researchers were surprised to find that even this small and initial exposure to ecstasy had caused significant impairments in cognitive testing, particularly in verbal memory performance, as well as in blood flow to certain regions of the brain. The damage was not severe but was significantly evident, and had occurred after the consumption of relatively small amounts of the drug.
The research leaders have as a result reported that in their clinical opinion, any exposure to ecstasy is harmful, and people should avoid experimenting with the drug due to the probability of long term brain damage.
A recent survey of American high school seniors indicates that almost 5% had tried the drug, and the usage of the drug seems to be on the rise. There is a mis perception as to the safety of the drug, and the public needs to know that ecstasy is not a safe drug, that long term use can cause serious damage and greatly increases the risk of experienced depression, and additionally that the damage to the brain starts occurring even after only small doses of the drug have been used.
I’ve never tried ecstasy, I guess I’m a bit of an old timer now, but I have no doubt that I would have tried it were I a teenager today. Ecstasy is perceived as a fairly safe and non addictive drug, and it’s unfortunate that this perception is false. The risks of the drug are high, and although I’ve no doubt that it’s a lot of fun; is one night of fun worth the risk of a life time of depression and other cognitive and affective side effects? If you use ecstasy regularly, get educated as to the health consequences of use, and consider stopping, or at least reducing your usage. Ecstasy can be addictive, and professional treatment may be required in some cases.