Ecstasy Use Increases Serotonin Receptors in Women

June 18, 2013 · Posted in Brain Imaging, Risk Factors · Comment 

ecstasy pill

MDMA, better known as the drug ecstasy, has been found to reduce serotonin axons in animals. A small study by Di Iorio et al. published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2012 suggests that the drug also has detrimental effects on serotonin signaling in humans.

The researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to identify serotonin receptors in the brains of 10 women who had never used ecstasy and 14 who had used the drug at least five times before and then abstained for at least 90 days. The team found significantly greater cortical serotonin2A receptor nondisplaceable binding potential (serotonin2ABPND, an indicator of serotonin receptors) in abstaining MDMA users than in those women who had never used the drug.

The increase in serotonin receptors observed in these ecstasy users could be a sign of chronic serotonin neurotoxicity. Loss of serotonin nerve terminals decreases serotonin levels and secondarily results in the production of more serotonin receptors. Thus, one explanation for the receptor increase is that it is prompted by the decrease in serotonin transmission that MDMA is known to cause.

The higher levels of serotonin2ABPND were found in several regions of the MDMA users’ brains: occipital-parietal, temporal, occipito-temporal-parietal, frontal, and frontoparietal. Lifetime use of the drug was associated with serotonin2ABPND in the frontoparietal, occipitotemporal, frontolimbic, and frontal regions. There were no regions in which the MDMA users had lower levels of receptors than women in the control group. The duration of the ecstasy users’ abstinence from using the drug had no effect on levels of serotonin2ABPND observed, suggesting that the effects might be long-lasting, if not permanent.

Editor’s Note: Given serotonin’s importance in brain function and the drug’s popularity for recreational use, this finding has implications both for ecstasy users and for research on serotonin signaling. Ecstasy is supposed to be a “love drug,” but people should show their serotonin nerve terminals some love and look after them by avoiding the drug.

Even Short-Term Recreational Use Of Ecstasy Causes Deficits In Visual Memory

June 17, 2013 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

ecstasy pill

German researchers have found that MDMA (ecstasy) users who took more than 10 pills in a one-year period showed deficits in visual memory. Wagner et al. published the study in the journal Addiction in 2012.

In tests where participants were trained to associate certain words with certain images and then recall one in response to the other, those who had taken ecstasy at least ten times the previous year showed deterioration in both their immediate and delayed recall skills.

Given the role of the hippocampus in relational memory, the researchers suspect that there is a relationship between ecstasy use and hippocampal dysfunction.

Editor’s Note: This is the most definitive study on this subject so far because it observed new users before and after they had used ecstasy for at least 10 times in one year (unlike many retrospective studies that observed participants only after they had been using the drug for some time, so it was impossible to know if they had pre-existing memory problems).

Other data in animals and humans suggest that ecstasy burns out the terminals of serotonergic neurons and thus causes brain damage. It now appears this damage to the brain and memory can occur even during short-term or casual ecstasy use.