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'Ecstasy' May Cause Long-Term Changes in Brain Chemistry
Date:12/13/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Recreational use of the illegal drug known as ecstasy is associated with long-term changes in brain chemistry, a small, new study reveals.

Based on research with women, it appears that the so-called "rave" drug can induce a drop in serotonin levels that can last up to two years. Serotonin, the research team noted, is critical to the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, learning and memory.

"We've always known that ecstasy produced transient effects, but with the suggestion that there would be recovery over time," explained study co-author Dr. Ronald Cowan, an associate professor of psychiatry in the department of psychiatry with Vanderbilt University Medical Center's School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. "But here we find that these effects may be sustained over time with no evidence of reversal," he added.

"Now this is an observational study, so we can't do really any more than suggest causation," Cowan noted. "But I would say that this is nevertheless the strongest evidence we have that there is chronic change in serotonin levels for those who use the drug."

Cowan and his colleagues report their findings in the Dec. 5 online issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The authors noted that nearly 16 million Americans aged 12 and older have reportedly used ecstasy at some point in their life.

As described by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, ecstasy (otherwise known by its chemical name, MDMA) is a psychoactive stimulant that is similar in structure to methamphetamine and mescaline.

The drug increases serotonin levels in the brain, and users feel a sense of euphoria and emotional warmth. On the downside, the institute notes that the drug prompts a potentially problematic increase in both heart rate and blood pressure, and can lead to sleep disturbance and lingering feelings of confusion, depression a
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