A Worry for Ravers: One Night of Ecstasy Could Cause Brain Damage

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Carmichael

Seven years ago Johns Hopkins neurologist George Ricaurte started a major battle in the war on drugs with a single image--a monkey brain on MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy. The brain was shot through with holes where its neurons should have been busy making serotonin. The implications seemed obvious. If ecstasy could eat away at a monkey, it could do the same to us. The National Institute on Drug Abuse promptly put Ricaurte's brain scans at the core of its anti-ecstasy efforts. At least two groups weren't so quick to embrace Ricaurte's results: the club kids who keep the rave scene going and a faction of scientists led by Charles Grob. A UCLA psychiatrist, Grob became Ricaurte's foil, publicly attacking his experimental methods, subjects, even the wording of his press releases.

This week the two are at it again. Ricaurte has just published research in the journal Science indicating that one night's worth of ecstasy also kills the brain cells that produce dopamine, possibly putting even casual users at risk for Parkinson's disease later in life. Grob's response? "This just reinforces my concerns." Ricaurte's new study simulates the effects of a rave, where partygoers may take several tabs of ecstasy. Injecting monkeys and baboons with small amounts of MDMA three times in nine hours, he produced the same effects he'd seen in his original study, which used more gradual doses. …