Ecstasy ‘leaves gaps in the memory’

Regular users of the illegal drug ecstasy are risking damage to their long-term memory; according to research by a team drawn from five British universities.

Self-assessment by volunteers showed that clubbers who pop the pills an estimated 2 million a week in Britain are 23% more likely to suffer memory blanks than those who do not use them.

Lapses in following TV plots and forgetting to pass on messages were frequently cited in their responses to a website questionnaire.

“Users may think that ecstasy is fun and that it feels fairly harmless at the time,” the project lead researcher Dr Jaequi Rodgers, of Newcastle University’s neurology department said. “However, our results show slight but measurable impairments to memory as a result of use, which is worrying.”

Mixing ecstasy-taking with cannabis use a very pattern, according to the data adds significantly to the damage, the report says. Such users face a double whammy; they are vulnerable to a myriad of memory afflictions which may represent a time bomb of cognitive problems for later life.’

The research, which attracted responses from the US, Australia and EU countries, is the biggest piece of self analytical material so far contributed to the ecstasy debate. Dr Rodgers said the findings conformed to most published data from actual memory tests taken by ecstasy users, although the drug’s effects needed much more study.

“We all know of cases where people have suffered acutely from the use of ecstasy such as the teenager Leah Betts, but relatively little is known about the more subtle effects on regular users: she said.

“It’s a matter for concern that we don’t really know what the long-term effects of ecstasy use will be. But our results indicate that users are potentially creating a time bomb of potential cognitive difficulties in later life?’

The research, which involved medical staff from East London, Northumbria, Tees side and Westminster Universities, had 763 participants, but looked particularly Closely at 81 respondents who had taken ecstasy more than 10 times.

The drug, scientifically known as 3,4- methylenedioxy- methaznphetamine or MDMA, has been fashionable n clubs, bin the Home Office said last month that its use in Britain had fallen last year by 21%.

Young users are thought to be shifting to legal alternatives such as amyl nitrate ‘poppers’ – partly in fear of ecstasy’s potent damage, including research indications that it may affect women more than men.

The charity Drugscope welcomed the findings as a contribution to information on ecstasy’s effects, but a
spokeswoman said: “What we really need is a long term study of the drug and government funding to pay for that.”

The memory findings are published in the new issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The project plans to run website memory tests later this year.
Source:Journal of Psychopharmacology; Jan 15th 2004.

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