Women at greater risk of brain-cell damage from long-term ecstasy use

November 29, 2001

N.B. Please note that if you are outside North America the embargo for Lancet Press material is 0001 hours UK Time Friday 30th November 2001

Authors of a Dutch study in this week's issue of THE LANCET conclude that long-term ecstasy use-especially among women-could have serious negative effects on specific cells in the brain. The study also suggests that the adverse effects of ecstasy use can sometimes be reversed among people who stop using the drug.

Ecstasy is a popular recreational drug that has been shown to damage brain serotonin neurons in high doses. Irreversible loss of serotonin neurons can result in the immediate or delayed onset of neuropsychiatric disorders; serotonin imbalance is thought to underlie depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and disorders of impulse control. The effects of moderate ecstasy use on serotonin neurons have not been studied, and sex differences and the long-term effects of ecstasy use on serotonin neurons have not been identified.

Liesbeth Reneman and colleagues from Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, Netherlands, investigated the effects of moderate and heavy ecstasy use, sex differences, and long-term effects of ecstasy use on serotonin neurons in different brain regions. Using flyers posted in "rave" venues in Amsterdam, the investigators recruited 15 moderate ecstasy users, 23 heavy users, 16 ex-users who had stopped using ecstasy for more than 1 year, and 15 controls who claimed never to have used the drug. The effects of ecstasy on brain serotonin neurons was assessed by calculating the ratio of serotonin receptor density in different parts of the brain compared with the cerebellum; this was done using single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT).

Among heavy ecstasy users, substantial decreases in overall binding ratios were seen in women but not men. In female ex-ecstasy users, overall densities of serotonin transporters were significantly higher than in heavy ecstasy users.

In an accompanying Commentary (p 1831), George Ricaurte and Una McCann from Johns Hopkins UniversitySchool of Medicine, Baltimore, USA, conclude: "Although the study is timely and potentially important, the small sample size and methodological questions limit confidence in conclusions about differences between sexes or possibility of reversibility of the effects of MDMA [ecstasy] in human beings. Studies in larger cohorts of both sexes, free of psychiatric illnesses in which serotonin is implicated, are needed."
Contact: Dr Liesbeth Reneman, c/o Department of Communications, Academic Medical Center, Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, Netherlands; T) +31 20 566 2929; F) +31 20 696 7899; E) reneman@amc.uva.nl

Professor George A Ricaurte, Department of Neurology, John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, 5501 Hopkins Bayview Circle, Baltimore, MD 21224 USA; T) +1 410 550 0993; F) +1 410 550 2005; E) RICAURTE@JHMI.EDU


Related Serotonin Articles from Brightsurf:

First look at how hallucinogens bind structurally to serotonin receptors
Although hallucinogenic drugs have been studied for decades, little is known about the underlying mechanisms in the brain by which they induce their effects.

Guilt by dissociation: Study sheds light on serotonin in autism
A study on serotonin, a mood-regulating molecule in the brain that regulates many brain synapses, is helping to unravel the puzzle surrounding its role in autism.

How serotonin balances communication within the brain
Our brain is steadily engaged in soliloquies. These internal communications are usually also bombarded with external sensory events.

Why do we freeze when startled? New study in flies points to serotonin
A Columbia University study in fruit flies has identified serotonin as a chemical that triggers the body's startle response, the automatic deer-in-the-headlights reflex that freezes the body momentarily in response to a potential threat.

Settling the debate on serotonin's role in sleep
New research finds that serotonin is necessary for sleep, settling a long-standing controversy.

Whole grain can contribute to health by changing intestinal serotonin production
Adults consuming whole grain rye have lower plasma serotonin levels than people eating low-fibre wheat bread, according to a recent study by the University of Eastern Finland and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Serotonin boosts neuronal powerplants protecting against stress
Research from the Vaidya and Kolthur-Seetharam groups (TIFR) shows that the neurotransmitter serotonin enhances the production and functions of neuronal mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, and protect against stress.

Fight or flight: Serotonin neurons prompt brain to make the right call
Known for its role in relieving depression, the neurochemical serotonin may also help the brain execute instantaneous, appropriate behaviors in emergency situations, according to a new Cornell study published Feb.

New images show serotonin activating its receptor for first time
A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have used high-powered microscopes to view serotonin activating its receptor for the first time.

Serotonin-Noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors may cause dependence and withdrawal when stopped
The difficulties that people have in discontinuing antidepressant medications has been in the news recently.

Read More: Serotonin News and Serotonin Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.