Party Drugs Change Brains

Ecstasy MDMA associated with chronic serotonin level reductions

(RxWiki News) It's all fun and games until somebody's brain gets altered. Scientific investigators at Vanderbilt University discovered chronic changes in human brains after ingesting illegal party drug ecstasy.

This new study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, complemented past studies suggesting ecstasy produces serotonin neurotoxicity with lasting effects.

"Save your brain trouble; just say “no” to ecstasy use."

Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt, co-authored the study. Dr. Cowan and his team wanted to know if the effects of MDMA, also known as “ecstasy,” on humans were similar to animal studies that showed a loss of serotonin function. 

In order to determine whether the MDMA causes chronic reductions in serotonin performance, doctors examined 14 female MDMA users and 10 women who had never used the drug. Non-drug-related psychiatric disorder patients were excluded from the study.

The serotonin levels in all women were compared using positron emission tomography, a nuclear medicine imaging technique which generates three-dimensional images of the body’s processes.  MDMA users had significantly lower levels of serotonin compared to healthy controls.  

According to Dr. Cowan, this “study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that the [ecstasy] causes chronic loss of serotonin in humans.” Serotonin regulates a person’s appetite, mood, memory, learning capabilities, and capacity to sleep.

Dr. Cowan and his team anxiously wait to find out whether the drug causes long-term brain damage. A national survey administered in 2010 revealed 695,000 people in our country reported using ecstasy the month before the survey, with an estimated 15.9 million people in the United States who’ve used ecstasy in their lifetime. 

Medical professionals seek to understand the risks associated with the drug because “MDMA may have therapeutic benefits,” according to Cowan. Currently, the drug is being tested in treatment with post-traumatic stress disorder patients as well as individuals with other anxiety disorders. 

Cowan warns however that it is “"essential that we understand the risk associated with using Ecstasy. If news keeps coming out that MDMA is being tested therapeutically and is safe, more people will tend to self-administer the drug. We need to know the dose at which this drug becomes toxic.

“Our studies suggest that if you use Ecstasy recreationally, the more you use, the more brain changes you get." Study results indicated that life-time MDMA-users possessed an increased levels of serotonin receptors.

Recreational use of pharmaceutical drugs is illegal and highly dangerous.  Make the informed decision and choose not to participate in recreational drug use.  



Review Date: 
December 6, 2011