You may have seen the story that made the newspapers last week regarding a man who is believed to have consumed the largest amount of ecstasy ever.
Consultants from the addiction centre at St George’s Medical School, London, have published a case report of a British man estimated to have taken around 40,000 pills over a nine-year period. The heaviest previous lifetime intake on record is 2,000 pills.
Though the man, who is now 37, stopped taking the drug seven years ago, he is reported to still suffer from severe physical and mental health side-effects, including extreme memory problems, paranoia, hallucinations and depression.
He also has painful muscle rigidity around his neck and jaw which often prevents him from opening his mouth. The doctors believe many of these symptoms may be permanent.
The man, known as Mr A in the report (but dubbed Mr Ecstasy by some tabloid journalists) in the scientific journal Psychosomatics, started using ecstasy at 21.
For the first two years his use was an average of five pills per weekend. Gradually this escalated until he was taking around three and a half pills a day.
At the peak, the man was taking an estimated 25 pills every day for four years. After several severe collapses at parties, Mr A decided to stop taking ecstasy.
For several months, he still felt he was under the influence of the drug, despite being bedridden.
According to the research paper, his condition deteriorated and he began to experience recurrent tunnel vision and other problems including hallucinations, paranoia and muscle rigidity.
He then presented himself to the hospital where the doctors discovered that he was suffering from severe short-term memory problems of a type usually seen only in lifetime alcoholics.
It has long been thought that MDMA could cause memory problems, particularly amongst heavy users. The results of research have been fairly mixed and definitely not conclusive.
The effect is believed to be due to its disruption of the regulation of serotonin, a brain chemical believed to play a role in mood and memory. It remains unclear whether these effects are the result of permanent neurotoxic damage or just temporary reversible alterations in the brain.
Of course, there are things that we need to consider here. First of all, we must remember that this is an extreme case, so to draw conclusions about your everyday ecstasy user based on this case is extremely problematic.
We also need to emphasise that Mr A was a polydrug user. Was it the ecstasy or was it the other drugs he was using that caused the problem?
Finally, we must remember that there is a particular lifestyle associated with ecstasy use (particularly if that person is using such huge amounts of the drug), i.e. lack of sleep and loss of appetite. Has this contributed to some of the problems he is now experiencing?
Whatever the case, it needs to be remembered that ecstasy use is not without risk, even if we’re still not absolutely certain what those risks are.
Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?/p>