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

nd anxiety.

On the other end of the spectrum, some researchers have pointed to the therapeutic potential for the controlled, clinical use of MDMA to help patients struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or dysfunctional social skills.

Cowan's team focused on 24 women, including 14 who were described as MDMA users. The study was confined to women to avoid the complication of gender-specific serotonin level differences between men and women.

The average age of the women was 22. Cowan noted that those who were MDMA users had taken ecstasy for a period of between three to four years, with the number of pills taken ranging from just five to roughly 375 overall. At the start of the study, all had abstained from ecstasy use for a minimum of 90 days, with the average length of abstinence hovering at the two-year mark.

The team used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to assess levels of serotonin receptors in the participants' brains, noting that receptor levels are known to go up as serotonin levels go down. Those women who had a history of taking ecstasy had higher receptor levels than women who hadn't, suggesting a drop in serotonin levels among MDMA users.

What's more, the team observed a dose-dependent impact: The more ecstasy a woman had taken in her lifetime, the higher her receptor levels.

"We don't actually know what the implications are," acknowledged Cowan. "There is some evidence in prior research that a drop in serotonin leads to sleep apnea, depression, anxiety and memory loss. But in our work we didn't find evidence of mental health issues. No increased anxiety, impulsivity or depression. And the IQs of the women who took the drug were identical with those who had never taken it," he stated.

"We also have no proof that a drop in serotonin levels would be forever," Cowan noted. "Animal studies have indicated that there could be as much as a seven-year duration in such dips. But we don't know. So,
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