Ecstasy and Pot : Double the memory damage

Club drug hinders long-term recollection, while marijuana limits short-term memory By Steven Reinberg.

Adding to an already hefty body of evidence a new study finds ecstasy users suffer from long-term memory problems while marijuana smokers struggle with short-term memory lapses. The study found those who regularly took the popular club drug ecstasy were 23% more likely to report problems with remembering things than people who are drug-free. And marijuana smokers reported up to 20% more memory problems than non-users.

“There is a lot of evidence that ecstasy users are likely to use other drugs, including cannabis. Users of both substances may therefore be vulnerable to a myriad of memory afflictions, which may represent a time bomb of cognitive problems for later life,” says lead researcher Jacqui Rodgers Rodgers is with the School of Neurology, Neurobiology and Psychiatry at the University of Newcastle in England. The findings appear in the January issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Collecting data through a Web site, Rodgers and colleagues used a standard questionnaire to assess drug use among the 763 individuals who responded. They also looked closely at a subgroup of 81 ‘typical’ ecstasy users who had taken the drug at least 10 times.

The people were asked about their short-term and long-term memory. They were also asked to rank the probability of scenarios such as finding a television story difficult to follow or forgetting to pass a message on to someone.

The group of ‘typical’ ecstasy users reported their long-term memory to be 14% worse than the 483 people who had never taken ecstasy, and 23% worse than the 242 non-drug users.

“We found that people who regularly take ecstasy report experiencing long-term memory difficulties, and are 23% more likely to report problems with remembering things than nonusers,” she says.

“We also found that people who use cannabis regularly report up to 20% more memory problems than non-users, in terms of short-term memory performance,” Rodgers adds.

Rodgers team also noted the number of mistakes the people made when titling out the questionnaire.

Users of ecstasy – also known as MDMA –made 21% more mistakes on the questionnaire compared with non-ecstasy users and 29% more mistakes than people who did not take drugs at all.

These differences were the same for men and women.

“Our findings may help drug services in the U.K. and elsewhere explain the potential consequences of use, so that people can make an informed decision as to whether to take ecstasy or not,” Rodgers says.

“Users may think that ecstasy is fun and that it feels fairly harmless at the time. However, our results show slight but measurable impairments to memory as a result of use, which is worrying,” she notes. “It’s equally concerning that we don’t realy know what the long-term effects of ecstasy use will be, as it is still a poorly understood drug,” Rodgers adds. “The findings also suggest that ecstasy users who take cannabis are suffering from a double whammy, where both their long-term and short-term memory is being impaired.

“Rodgers team is planning to launch a Web site within the next two months that will include memory tests that may determine whether self-reported memory impairment is actually detectable by objective measurement.

Dr Stephen Koesters, a clinical assistant professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Ohio State University, says, “The study has a number of limitations, but does seem to support other studies that have been released in the past.”

“While the specific effects of MDMA are difficult to pinpoint in light of multiple drug use by many patients, self- reporting of the amount and the frequency of drug use, there is certainly a trend in the available literature that suggests memory impairment is a real side effect of MDMA use” he adds.

Whether these effects are cumulative is difficult to determine, Koesters adds.

“Current evidence does suggest that MDMA can be dangerous, both with acute ingestion and to longer-term memory impairment,” Koesters says. “With the current rate that MDMA is being abused, it is not safe to wait 30 or 40 years to see if we have a true epidemic,” he adds.

Source: Journal of Psychopharmacology. Jan 2004 Reported on www.healthday.com

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