Risk of brain damage with ecstasy use
Long-term users of the illegal drug ecstasy (containing an amphetamine) are at higher risk of suffering brain damage.
Previous research has suggested that people who use ecstasy can develop serious memory problems.
Researchers from Denmark decided to study whether the drug caused any structural changes in the brain. They used MRI scans to measure the volume of the hippocampus (brain area responsible for long-term memory) in 10 men in their mid-20s who were long-term ecstasy users and seven men in the same age group who had never used the drug.
On average, the ecstasy users had not taken the drug for more than two months before undergoing the MRI scans, but had taken an average of 281 ecstasy tablets over the previous six and a half years. Brain scans showed an approximate 11 percent shrinkage in the volume of the hippocampus and a 5 percent lower proportion of overall gray matter among long-term ecstasy users as compared to non-users.
The study suggests that ecstasy users may be prone to suffer hippocampal damage, following chronic use of this drug. Atrophy of the hippocampus is a hallmark for diseases of progressive mental impairment in older patients, such as Alzheimer's disease.
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