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Proof that Ecstasy damages brain
The Times of London
Ian Murray, Medical Correspondent
October 30 1998

Positron emission tomographic evidence of toxic effect of MDMA ('Ecstasy') on brain serotonin neurons in human beings,
by U. D. McCann; Z Szabo; U Scheffel; R.F. Dannals; G. A. Ricaurte
The Lancet Vol 352, Oct 31, 1998, 1437


THE drug Ecstasy causes brain damage in people who take it frequently, scientists have proved. Earlier research had suggested that there were long-term side effects, but now there is hard evidence to show that it destroys brain cells.

Every weekend in Britain an estimated one million people between 17 and 35 take Ecstasy to experience the "high" that enables them to dance the night away.

Many users choose to believe claims that the drug is less dangerous than alcohol. But a new brain-scanning technique has provided clear proof that the effects of taking Ecstasy can last a lifetime.

The research, published in The Lancet, was carried out on a group of 14 people who had used Ecstasy up to 200 times in the past, but who had not taken any for at least three weeks before the study began.

Together with a control group of 15 non-users, they were injected with a radioactive tracer that binds to molecules of the nerve transporter serotonin, carrier of messages to different parts of the brain.

Scans showed that former users, even those who had not used the drug for several years, had a significantly lower level of serotonin than did non-users. The more Ecstasy a person had taken during his life, the less serotonin in the brain.

The researchers, from Johns Hopkins Institutions, Baltimore, found that users all showed damage to the nerve endings in the area of the brain responsible for thought, memory and emotion.

It is because of the way that Ecstasy affects this part of the brain that it is so popular. Users say it increases emotional intensity and the ability to communicate.

George Ricuarte, leader of the research team, said: "People who use Ecstasy are putting themselves at risk of brain injury.

"Potential consequences of brain damage induced by the drug are not clear, but may include depression, anxiety, memory disturbance and other neuropsychiatric disorders."