Ecstasy and Brain Damage
Studies have shown that ecstasy and brain damage are serotonin related. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects moods, so that after the initial high, the user may feel tired, depressed, or moody. Their body will eventually produce more serotonin, but ecstasy and brain damage will cause the serotonin to return normal levels. So, after a weekend of heavy partying, they may have trouble getting up and going to class or work, and once there, they may be irritable.
The first studies of ecstasy and brain damage show the popular club drug effects on the brain include impairment of memory and damage to brain mechanisms that regulate sleep, mood, and learning. The early results of the studies, presented at a scientific conference for the National Institute of Drug Abuse, found that ecstasy and brain damage in some cases may persist for years. "We are finding that even a single use can produce brain changes," Institute director Alan Leshner says. "Now we need to find out whether these changes are permanent or whether the brain will recover."
A study in England showed that ecstasy users had memory impairment due to ecstasy and brain damage that lasted on average 2½ years after they stopped taking the drug. Extended use of ecstasy causes the user to have difficulty differentiating reality and fantasy, and causes problems concentrating. Additional studies have also found that ecstasy and brain damage are caused by the destruction of certain cells in the brain. While the cells may re-connect after discontinued use of the drug, they do not re-connect normally. Like most illegal and dangerous drugs, ecstasy and brain damage impairs memory and can cause paranoia, anxiety, and confusion.
Valerie Curran, a researcher at University College London, studied current and former ecstasy users and compared them with people who smoked marijuana and drank alcohol. Curran found that those who took ecstasy on weekends in doses commonly sold on the street and at rave parties showed more memory impairment due to ecstasy and brain damage than the marijuana and alcohol users.
"Ex-users showed very marked impairments on the memory tests and more difficult tests requiring concentration. Their memory did not recover even after a year," Curran says. "Current users were very impaired in their ability to learn."
An ecstasy and brain damage scan study by scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York found that people had decreased blood flow to their brains two weeks after taking a low dose of ecstasy. The results from the studies resemble findings from earlier animal studies.
The studies have not determined whether the human brain may recover from ecstasy and brain damage caused by intermittent and low-dose ecstasy use or whether the effects are so subtle the studies cannot detect them, says Linda Chang, a scientist at the Brookhaven laboratory.
"While we do know a lot about (ecstasy), there's still a lot we don't know," says Glen Hanson, chief of the institute's neuroscience research division. "In a way, we are conducting this huge experiment on hundreds of thousands of kids who are taking the drug at parties and thinking everything's OK, yet we don't know what the end result will be. That's very scary."