Ecstasy the illegal "rave" drug that produces feelings of euphoria and emotional warmth has been in the news recently as a potential therapeutic. Clinical trials are testing Ecstasy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But headlines like one in Time magazine's health section in February "Ecstasy as therapy: have some of its negative effects been overblown?" concern Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry.
His team reports in the May issue of Neuropsychopharmacology that recreational Ecstasy use is associated with a chronic change in brain function.
"There's tension in the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy between those who think Ecstasy could be a valuable therapeutic that's not being tested because of overblown fears, and those who are concerned about the drug's potentially harmful effects," Cowan said.
"We're not on one side or the other; we're just trying to find out what's going on in the brain is there any evidence for long-lasting changes in the brain?"
The message in news reports needs to be accurate, Cowan said. His team's studies suggest that the current message should be: "If you use Ecstasy recreationally, the more you use, the more brain changes you get."
Cowan and his colleagues examined brain activation during visual stimulation, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in subjects who had previously used Ecstasy (but not in the two weeks prior to imaging) and in subjects who had not previously used Ecstasy.
They found increased brain activation in three brain areas associated with visual processing in Ecstasy users with the highest lifetime exposure to the drug. The findings were consistent with the investigators' predictions based on results from animal models: that Ecstasy use is associated with a loss of serotonin signaling, which leads to hyper-excitability (increased activation) in the brain.
The hyper-excitability suggests a loss in bra
|Contact: Leigh MacMillan|
Vanderbilt University Medical Center