You are here

No cognitive damage following ecstasy use?

No cognitive damage following ecstasy use? - Laura Hondebrink; co-authored by Remco Westerink

Recently, popular media pointed out that ecstasy use has no negative influence on the brain. This statement was based on a recent study from Halpern et al (2010), who performed a retrospective study to compare cognitive function between (moderate and heavy) ecstasy users and people that have never used ecstasy. Somewhat surprisingly, they hardly found any differences in cognitive function between both groups. Hence, popular (Dutch) media indicated that XTC use does not exert adverse brain effects.

As discussed by the authors, this is the first and only study showing no relation between cognitive performance and ecstasy use in humans. Furthermore, ecstasy use was determined retrospectively, possibly influencing the outcome of this study. Many studies did find an association between ecstasy use and a lowered cognitive function. These findings are summarized in several reviews, including a meta-analysis of 26 studies that reported an association between ecstasy use and impairment of long- and short term memory as well as verbal memory.

Furthermore, animal studies resulted in over 250 published papers showing that administration of the active substance in ecstasy tablets, MDMA, induces neurotoxicity of the serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmitter systems (for review see Capela 2009). In e.g., squirrel monkeys, a reduction in serotonergic innervation and serotonin levels could be observed even seven years after MDMA exposure, indicating that MDMA can induce permanent changes in the serotonergic neurotransmitter system.

The authors already concluded that their findings contrast with previous findings from their and other labs and that extreme caution should be taken in interpreting these new results. Unfortunately, this information is often neglected in the press release. Popular media should take their responsibility and include this information as the overall literature clearly indicates that the suggestion that XTC use is without health risks should be avoided.