Magazine article Science News

Ecstasy Causes Memory Loss: New Drug Users Do Worse Than Nonusers on Recall Test

Magazine article Science News

Ecstasy Causes Memory Loss: New Drug Users Do Worse Than Nonusers on Recall Test

Article excerpt

Light use of the club drug Ecstasy may cause subtle memory deficits. People who popped an average of three Ecstasy tablets a month over a year saw their memory slip on a laboratory test, scientists report online July 26 in Addiction.

The new results offer some of the best evidence yet that the drug can change the brain, says neuroscientist Ronald Cowan of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. "It's been very, very difficult to convince people that there's a causative effect of the drug," he says. "This adds strong evidence to that."

Scientists debate whether Ecstasy, a drug that brings euphoria, boundless energy and heightened sensory experiences, can actually harm the brain in part by messing with cells that produce the chemical messenger serotonin. Past studies have been notoriously hard to interpret because brain differences seen between Ecstasy users and nonusers could have existed long before the drug use began. And people who use Ecstasy frequently tend to use other drugs too, making it hard to tease out Ecstasy's effect.

For the study, Daniel Wagner of the University of Cologne in Germany and his colleagues wanted to catch people as they started using Ecstasy. The team recruited 149 people who had used the drug five or fewer times and ran the subjects through a battery of brain tests looking for signs of mental deficits. One year later, the team retested 43 people who had not used Ecstasy since being recruited, and 23 who had used 10 or more Ecstasy pills in that time. …

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