Ecstasy Causes Lasting Neurotoxicity

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Ecstasy is one of the most widely used recreational drugs worldwide, even though regulatory authorities prohibit its use, manufacture and sale. The use of this illegal “rave” drug results to feelings of euphoria and emotional warmth. Moreover, according t o the Vanderbilt University investigators, it is linked to chronic changes in the human brain.

Dr. Ronald Cowan, associate professor of Psychiatry, stated that the findings presented online in the Archives of General Psychiatry, strengthened the evidence that ecstasy causes long-lasting serotonin human neurotoxicity. He further added that their study gave birth to some of the most reliable evidences to date that the said drug causes chronic serotonin loss in humans. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and critical signaling molecule, important in mood and appetite regulation, sleep, learning and memory.

According to Cowan, this present study is significant due to the fact that MDMA (ecstasy’s chemical name) may have therapeutic uses and currently, it is being tested to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety related with cancer.

Furthermore, Cowan stressed out that understanding the risk linked with ecstasy use is of much essence. There is a high probability of people being misled with the news that since this drug is now being tested therapeutically, they can already self-administer it. It is still very important to know the toxic dose of MDMA.

The studies also cited that the more a person uses ecstasy recreationally, the more changes there will be in the brain. In the present study, Cowan and colleagues utilized positron emission tomography (PET) to examine the levels of serotonin- 2A receptors in different brain regions. They used it in women who took ecstasy (but not in the 90 days before the imaging) and in women who never took the drug. They concentrated their studies on females for the reason that previous work showed gender-specific differences in serotonin receptor levels.

They discovered in their studies that ecstasy users had elevated serotonin-2A levels and that higher drug doses associated to higher serotonin receptor levels.  Cowan explained that receptor levels increase to compensate for the serotonin loss. Furthermore, Cowan and team stated earlier this year that ecstasy caused increased brain activation in 3 brain areas related to visual processing, which can evidence loss in brain efficiency. Cowan affirmed how crucial present studies are in determining if ecstasy truly causes chronic brain damage, since many of the population are using it. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 15.9 million people 12 years or older had taken ecstasy in their lifetime.

This study paved the way to understand more the effects of ecstasy in the brain. Nevertheless, Cowan still wants to dig deeper in knowing the doses of ecstasy that are toxic and if there are genetic predisposition to toxicity. Clinical trials may present that this drug can be therapeutically beneficial, but it is still very much important to determine the risks.




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