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If You Take Ecstasy, Will You Remember?

Regular ecstasy use damages the brain's ability to recall details of images, a study suggests.

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Does ecstasy cause less-than-total recall?
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By Valerie Tejeda

07/27/12

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Even short-term use of the “rave” drug ecstasy may cause memory problems, suggests a new study published in the journal Addiction. Aiming to catch people just as they started using ecstasy regularly, researchers initially examined 149 subjects who had used the drug a maximum of five times, and then examined 109 of them who returned one year later. Of the returning subjects, 43 hadn't used ecstasy during the intervening year, while 23 others had taken more than 10 ecstasy pills—at an estimated average of 33.6 pills over the year. The two groups performed similarly in most of the tests they were set, except for one, which involved remembering which type of border had framed an image, both immediately after viewing and one hour later. The continuing ecstasy-users scored less well at this.

“By measuring the cognitive function of people with no history of ecstasy use and, one year later, identifying those who had used ecstasy at least ten times and pre-measuring their performance, we have been able to start isolating the precise cognitive effects of this drug," says lead author Dr. Daniel Wagner, of the University of Cologne in Germany. But Jerrold Meyer, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, notes "I'm reasonably convinced by their data, but obviously, as with any study, there are always unanswered questions." Ecstasy has been deemed dangerous by health and law enforcement officials, although experts such as the British professor David Nutt—who famously declared, "Horse-riding is considerably more dangerous than taking ecstasy”—have bucked the trend. “To have a comprehensive answer, you need to study a drug from many different domains,” says Wagner. At the moment, he believes, “It’s hard to say that it’s a harmful drug.”

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