Category: Blog Post
Posted: February 28 2011
Author: Dan Werb

The Potential Harms Associated With Ecstasy

Ecstasy has been a major source of concern for policymakers and the public since the popularity of this drug expanded rapidly among young people in the 1990s. Despite a lot of concern that ecstasy is associated with decreased cognitive ability, however, there has been a dearth of evidence on its negative effects, leading then-Chairman of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (and current ICSDP Scientific Board member) Dr. David Nutt to suggest in a Lancet study that ecstasy appeared to be less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Since then, the ecstasy debate has continued, though a new study by Dr. John H. Halpern and colleagues entitled, “Residual neurocognitive features of long-term ecstasy users with minimal exposure to other drugs” and recently published in Addiction provides some of the strongest evidence to date on the potential harms of ecstasy.

The authors used a case-control method wherein 52 ecstasy users were closely matched with 59 non-users, all of whom participated in dance raves and were free of pzsychiatric disorders. The authors then administered 15 tests measuring a variety of cognitive functions, and found that there was little evidence of decreased cognitive performance in the ecstasy users. What is novel about this study is that because it was restricted to participants who participated in rave culture, potential confounders related to attendance at all-night dance parties were removed, and it controlled for the effect of other illicit drugs such as cocaine and cannabis by restricting participation to individuals that report minimal exposure to other illicit drugs or alcohol. By doing so, Halpern et al. have provided a significant next step in our understanding of how ecstasy affects the brain, and provides some compelling evidence for policy makers considering how to address ecstasy use.

You can read the article here.