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Study Finds Long-Term Ecstasy Use Leads to Memory Loss

 ST. PAUL, MN -- Long-term users of "ecstasy,' the street name for the drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), tend to experience memory loss or impairment, according to a study reported in the April 10 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Fifteen MDMA users, ranging in age from 17 to 31, participated in the year-long study. Participants of the study took the drug an average of 2.4 times per month. The testing regimen included measures sensitive to intelligence and every day memory functioning.

Over the period of one year the test scores either declined or kept static, but did not improve. The main finding of the study is that continued use of MDMA is associated with different aspects of memory decline, including retrospective memory (i.e. the ability to recall a short passage of prose being read out immediately and after a delay). For example, the ability to recall a story after a brief delay declined by approximately 50 percent between the first and second assessments.

The drug affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and the consolidation of new memories.

According to Konstantine Zakzanis, Ph.D., a professor with the University of Toronto's Division of Life Sciences, and a co-author of the study, "For those who use ecstasy repeatedly, there is preliminary evidence to suggest memory processes can be impaired with continued use of the drug. For those that use ecstasy once or twice in a lifetime, to date, there is no evidence to suggest impairment of memory function that are progressive or permanent in nature, although the jury of ecstasy researchers are still deliberating the matter."

Zakzanis cautioned that the study relied on self reporting by participants, and that "Self reported drug habits are notoriously unreliable. We also have to take into account that there is little quality control in street drugs and most investigations provide only an estimate when calculating each subject's ecstasy intake."
All subjects agreed to abstain from all drugs for at least two weeks prior to testing at baseline and follow-up. Their drug free status was confirmed by urine and blood screening tests.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.