An interesting article appeared in the UK newspaper The Times late last year which examined the evidence on the long-term harms associated with ecstasy use, particularly in regards to memory. Ecstasy, or 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), floods the brain with serotonin, a feel-good chemical. Serotonin helps to regulate memory, sleep, libido, appetite and temperature.
The biggest recorded user of ecstasy is thought to have consumed 40,000 pills over nine years. Earlier this year, doctors who examined Mr A reported in the journal Psychosomatics that his memory loss was so severe that he couldn’t remember what was in his supermarket trolley and had trouble working out the time of day. Of course, it is extremely difficult to extrapolate from this extremely bizarre example. Firstly, it is a highly unusual case and, secondly, Mr A used many other drugs during the same period – which ones actually caused the damage no-one is ever likely to know. Nonetheless, the psychiatrist studying Mr A said that “it might be an indication that daily use of ecstasy over a long period can lead to irreversible memory problems and other cognitive defects”.
One recent study found that two years after giving up ecstasy, some users still showed memory loss similar to early-stage dementia. Longer-term studies are needed but the report’s author believes that, if people who ceased use years ago have not yet recovered, then this could have major implications for society.
Other studies contradict this finding, with one showing volunteers given ecstasy perform about 10-15 percent worse on memory tasks than those given a placebo, but the impairment vanishes after a very short time (about six hours).
Most people who use ecstasy use other drugs and if you really want to study memory loss due to ecstasy, you have to find a control group that takes other drugs, such as crystal, ketamine and cannabis, but not E. That has proven to be extremely difficult and as such the jury is still out on what damage the drug is actually doing. The message, however, should still be one of caution – if you do make the decision to use illegal drugs, be aware of the risks and be aware that we are still discovering what some of those may be.
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 blasé.

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