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RSNA: Low-Dose Ecstasy Use May Harm Brain

Prospective study compares neuroimaging test results before and after incident ecstasy use

MONDAY, Nov. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Even low doses of the illegal recreational drug ecstasy are unsafe for the brain, according to a prospective study presented this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Maartje de Win, M.D., of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and colleagues conducted neuroimaging and other tests on 188 ecstasy-naive subjects -- 77 men and 111 women with an average age of 21.7 -- whom they identified as having a high future risk of ecstasy use. After 18 months, the researchers re-examined 59 subjects who had started using ecstasy and had consumed an average of six tablets and 56 subjects who were still non-users.

The researchers found that new ecstasy users showed decreased fractional anisotropy, increased apparent diffusion coefficient and decreased relative regional cerebral blood volume, which suggested prolonged vasoconstriction and probably axonal loss. They also found that incident ecstasy use was not associated with severe damage to the serotonergic neurons or effects on mood.

"Previous studies suggested neurotoxic effects of the recreational drug ecstasy. However, most studies are retrospective so pre-existent differences between users and non-users cannot be excluded. Neurotoxicity is therefore disputed and some even advocate ecstasy as adjuvant in psychotherapy," the authors write. This study, they add, found that "low doses of ecstasy have effects on the brain. Therefore, recreational use and prescription of ecstasy as adjuvant in psychotherapy should be discouraged."

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