Club-Goers Embrace Ecstasy/Prozac Combo
Health experts call it misguided bid to protect against brain damage
FRIDAY, March 22, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Ecstasy users claim the controversial club drug is like time-traveling to nirvana.
But a growing number of young people are turning to a dangerous chaser -- Prozac -- in a misguided and potentially dangerous bid to make sure their brains will work properly upon their return, health experts say.
"People are definitely doing it," says Dr. Julie Holland, author of a book on ecstasy and an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. "I understand it's a pretty popular thing for those who have access to prescription medicines."
Ecstasy is the street name for the synthetic drug MDMA, which is part amphetamine and part hallucinogen. It's often taken in dance clubs and underground parties known as "raves" because it stimulates the body, allowing people to dance for long periods.
The drug also distorts a person's perception of time and space, causing a "trip" that has been compared to LSD. And some ecstasy advocates say the drug gives them "insight into life" and feelings of peace.
The concerns about ecstasy-Prozac cocktails come as a just-released report says ecstasy use is soaring among American teens.
Although overall drug use remained steady in 2001, the number of teens who admitted to trying ecstasy jumped by 20 percent. Use of the drug has risen 71 percent since 1999, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, which issued the report.
While much isn't known about ecstasy's effects on the mind and body, scientists and doctors think it can cause heart, kidney and brain damage, especially if used repeatedly.
What is known is that ecstasy boosts the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain by preventing it from being "recycled," Holland says. Scientists believe serotonin regulates mood, and they suspect depletion of it after ecstasy use can cause depression.
Ecstasy also appears to allow damage to brain receptors that sense the presence of serotonin, meaning the brain may not be able to recognize the neurotransmitter, Holland says.
No one has ever proven that the use of antidepressants like Prozac will prevent long-term damage from ecstasy use. But animal studies, including one from Western Michigan University published in 1999, suggest there may be a protective effect. And an organization that advocates the use of drugs like ecstasy recommends the ecstasy-Prozac combo.
"It certainly wouldn't hurt," claims Ian Baker, technical director of DanceSafe, which bills itself as an information source on drugs used in dance clubs.
Health experts aren't so sure. But, they say there's no doubt that many ecstasy users are curious about whether Prozac can keep them out of harm's way.
Greg Hayner, chief pharmacist with the drug-abuse treatment unit at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco, says no one should be surprised that ecstasy users are keeping abreast of research like that coming out of Western Michigan.
"You're looking at people in their late teens and early 20s, a lot of whom are college students," he says. "You've got this generation that's come up using computers and researching. This is the sort of thing that appeals to people like that."
But Hayner adds, ecstasy users are fooling themselves about Prozac's protective effects.
"They're using [the research] to justify their [drug] use, to make themselves feel better about it and feel like they're not causing any major damage," he says.
Experts say there are definite risks to mixing the drugs. Ecstasy can reduce Prozac's ability to calm depression. And a combination of both drugs could harm the heart, says pharmacist Darryl Inaba, chief executive of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics.
The warnings about ecstasy-Prozac use haven't stopped groups like DanceSafe from promoting Prozac in some cases. Baker, the organization's technical director, says counselors tell ecstasy users that Prozac may help them avoid "brain poisoning," especially if they only take ecstasy five or six times a year.
"We advise people to use Prozac to reduce neurotoxicity," Baker says. "These are people who, for the most part, are using psychoactive substances on their own, anyway. It's probably good to go in and become as informed as possible."
But health experts like NYU's Holland urge people to steer clear of ecstasy. They warn about potential side effects, including nausea, blurred vision, faintness, chills or sweating, and increases in heart rate and blood pressure.