Ecstasy in the ER

By Dirk Hanson 03/27/11

Emergency room visits by Ecstasy users have jumped by 75% in four years. But contradicting a decade of dire warnings, a new study from Harvard has found that long-term use of the designer drug does not risk permanent brain changes.

An Emergency X-perience Photo via CAPSE

Talk about a comedown: One minute you’re at what feels like the best party you've ever been to, hugging everyone you know and telling them how amazing they are, and the next thing you know, you're lying on a cot in the considerably less enchanting environs of your local hospital emergency room. Well, you're not alone. A new government study shows a dramatic 75% increase in MDMA-related emergency room visits in just four years. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) says that almost 20% of X-related ER visits between 2004 and 2008 involved kids from 12 to 17. What brings them there? According to SAMHSA, “anxiety, agitation, restlessness, increased blood pressure, dehydration, heat stroke, muscle cramping, blurred vision, hyperthermia, heart failure, and kidney failure.” However, the results are muddied by the fact that three-quarters of those ER visits involved Ecstasy in combination with alcohol or other drugs. (Safe to assume that designer-drug cocktails are iffy.) While there's no question about the short-term health risks associated with Ecstasy, the jury is still out on the effects of prolonged X-posure. For years, anti-drug activists have warned that regular Ecstasy use can cause permanent brain changes, even early dementia. But now a well-regarded report from the Harvard Medical School casts some doubt on those claims. The Harvard study, published in the journal Addiction, “failed to demonstrate marked residual cognitive effects in ecstasy users." Before it was outlawed in 1985, MDMA was used by therapists to work with depressed individuals and dueling couples. Now the US military is studying the drug as a tool to support treatment for ex-soldiers suffering from PTSD.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
dirk hanson.jpg

Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]