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Ecstasy = brain damage

by Gwen Hsueh and Kurt Hueschen, staff writers

Everyone in the room was friendly and excited, their eyes bright, their touch sensual and euphoric. The lights were so soft, they could almost feel it caressing their skin. The music pulsed in their veins like blood. They were in heaven. They were on Ecstacy.

The next day they were in hell. Ecstasy has become one of the world’s most popular illegal drugs in recent years. Its short term effects, inexpensive price, and ease of use have lured many into ignoring its immediate aftereffects and not even investigating its long-term effects - destruction of irreplaceable brain material.

This tiny little pill, according to US and international studies, can kill you on the spot or damage your brain permanently.

Ecstasy is the name given to methylene-dioxmenthamphetamine (MDMA) by a Los Angeles manufacturer of the drug in order to market it. A German chemical company first produced MDMA in 1914, and it was used regularly in medical treatments in hospitals around the world for most of the last century. It has barred from general use since 1973, when it was listed as a Class I drug.

After swallowing Ecstasy, users begin to feel the effects within 30 to 90 minutes. The immediate euphoria makes people feel comfortable, happy, excited, familiar with others, talkative, and outgoing. Music becomes stronger and more powerful, lights softer. Physical activity such as dancing, seems easy and the body tireless. These effects can last from 6 to 24 hours. However, the serious side effects of Ecstasy are dangerous. These include dehydration, which can cause kidney failure; heat stroke, and heart attack. Aftereffects include depression, loss of concentration, muscle aches, drowsiness, loss of appetite, and insomnia.

The long-term side effects are even more dangerous. Ecstasy reduces the brain’s production of seratonin, a chemical essential to movement, thinking, and learning. According to scientists at the U.S. Council for Drug Abuse, large doses of Ecstasy injected into laboratory animals lowered the levels of seratonin, and to a lesser extent dopamine, and damaged the nerve terminals from which serotonin was released. Persons taking large quantities of Ecstasy for several days may be at some risk of persistently low seratonin. As low seratonin has been linked to depression, it has been suggested that users of Ecstasy may be at increased risk of developing psychological problems.

Added to all this is the fact that unscrupulous dealers regularly cut the amount of Ecstasy actually used in some pills. Additives from sugar to arsenic to rat poison have been found. Researchers in London have demonstrated that brain damage from use of Ecstasy could persist for years. “Ex-users showed marked impairments on memory tests and tests requiring concentration. Their memories did not recover even after a year,” said Valerie Curran, a researcher at University College London. In a separate study, users had not regained full brain function even 2.5 years later.

Curran has compared the effects of Ecstasy with the effects of marijuana and alcohol. Her findings, in brief, are that habitual users of all three substances experience memory loss. Early results from studies by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse found that Ecstasy impairs memory and damages the brain mechanism that regulates sleep. Even after taking a single low dose of Ecstasy, according to a brain scan study by scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, people had a decreased blood flow to their brains even two weeks later.

“While we do know a lot about (Ecstasy), there’s still a lot we don’t know,” said Glen Hanson, chief of neuroscience research division, Brookhaven National Laboratory. “In a way, we are conducting this huge experiment on hundreds of thousands of kids who are taking the drug at parties, and thinking everything’s OK, yet we don’t know what the end result will be. That’s very scary.”



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