Ecstasy use 'damages the brain'

Taking ecstasy

Long term ecstasy use could damage the brain, according to a small study in the Netherlands.

The researchers showed an area of the brain associated with memory, the hippocampus, was 10% smaller in people who took the drug.

Scientists, writing in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, said the study showed preliminary evidence of brain damage.

A UK expert said the study was unable to provide definitive proof.

Memory loss

Earlier studies have shown a link between ecstasy use and memory loss.

The researchers at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam compared the brains of a group of 10 male ecstasy users with seven men who did not take ecstasy, but consumed similar levels of other drugs and alcohol.

The ecstasy users had taken an average of 281 tablets in the six and a half years before the study.

Both groups took no drugs in the two months before the brain scans.

The study showed the size of the hippocampus was 10.5% smaller in ecstasy users and they had 4.6% less grey matter.

"These data provide preliminary evidence suggesting that ecstasy users may be prone to incurring hippocampal damage, following chronic use of this drug," the researchers concluded.

Professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, David Nutt, said: "This is an interesting pilot study that is underpowered to provide definitive evidence of an effect of ecstasy, especially as there was more use of other stimulants in the ecstasy group.

"However there is evidence that many drugs especially alcohol can affect the hippocampus and thus memory function. Though the effects of ecstasy on memory are slight, longer follow up studies will be necessary to determine if there might be enduring effects."

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