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Memory problems found in Ecstasy users
Dec 21, 1998
Reuters Health
Memory impairment in abstinent MDMA ('Ecstasy') users,
by K.I. Bolla; U.D. McCann; G.A. Ricaurte
Neurology Vol 51, Dec 1998, 1532-1537

NEW YORK, Dec 21 (Reuters Health) Individuals who have used the recreational drug, Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA), heavily can have problems remembering what they have seen and heard, according to a report in the December issue of Neurology.

Dr. Karen Bolla, of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland, and colleagues administered a series of standard psychological tests to 30 Ecstasy users who had been abstinent for at least 2 weeks, and 28 control patients who had never used the drug.

Only patients who reported heavy use of the drug 400 milligrams or more per month displayed deficits in verbal and visual memory compared with controls, Bolla's team reports. They also found that "the extent of memory impairment correlates with the degree of MDMA exposure.''

Men showed greater memory impairments with increasing dose than women did. Memory impairments were also greater with increasing dose for those with lower intellectual abilities.

Ecstasy users also had lower levels of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), a marker of the neurotransmitter serotonin, in their spinal fluid.

"We found that the more MDMA a person reported using, the lower (the) level of 5-HIAA. In addition, people with the lowest levels of 5-HIAA showed the most trouble with visual memory tests,'' said Bolla in a statement. "This suggests that Ecstasy has a dose-related effect on serotonin activity which, in turn, affects memory in humans.''

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), echoes recent studies that found Ecstasy damages the ability of brain cells to communicate using serotonin.

"These studies sound an alarm to young people and their parents about the serious dangers of this party drug,'' said Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, at the NIH.

According to the NIH, the drug "has been reported most frequently among young adults and adolescents at clubs, raves, and rock concerts in Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle, and areas of Texas.''

SOURCE: Neurology 1998;51:1532-1537.