4 December 1998

Fry Your Brains On Ecstasy

Scientists in London have found evidence that may suggest ecstasy, or MDMA, is neurotoxic, poisoning the brain's pathways by its effect on the chemical serotonin.

The initial feelings of euphoria and happiness associated with taking the drug are due to a boost in serotonin, but within hours the chemical is depleted, leading to feelings of lethargy and depression.

Professor Andy Parrott, head of psychology at the University of East London, said today: "The more we learn about this drug, the more problems we uncover.

"The strands of evidence we can pull together suggest that MDMA may indeed be neurotoxic for humans.

What we don't yet know is how long-term those problems are." Professor Parrott revealed that he had seen patients who were suffering severe depression and concentration problems at least one year after they had stopped taking the drug.

"There is concern that the reduction of the level of serotonin might be a permanent reduction," he added. "In some people, the effect is mild but in others there are quite marked difficulties."

Animal studies, mostly in rats, have shown that MDMA can cause prolonged neural damage to the brain's pathways, and the question is now whether regular use of the drug has the same effect.