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What are long term effects of ecstasy consumption?

Ecstasy users may encounter problems similar to those experienced by amphetamine and cocaine users, including addiction. Physical effects include muscle tension, eye wiggles, auditory effects, next-day fatigue, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Increases in heart rate and blood pressure are a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.

Ecstasy-related fatalities at raves (extended all night parties) have been reported. The stimulant effects of the drug which enable the user to dance for extended periods, combined with the hot, crowded conditions usually found at raves can lead to dehydration, hyperthermia, and heart and kidney failure. An overheated, dehydrated body slowly “bakes” the internal organs and shuts down body functions. Death can result from overheating which causes kidney or cardiovascular failure.

Data suggest that MDMA may be toxic to the brain. Dr. George Ricaurte, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, analyzed brain scans of people who had used ecstasy. The study included people who had used ecstasy an average of 200 times over five years. Although the behavior of these people appeared normal, brain scans showed that the drug had damaged their brains. In fact, those who used the drug more often had more brain damage than less frequent users. Moreover, memory tests of people who have taken ecstasy as compared to non-drug users have shown that the ecstasy users had lower scores.

Specifically, the drug damaged cells that release the neurotransmitter called serotonin. Using an imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET), Ricaurte noted a 20-60% reduction in healthy serotonin cells in the drug users. Damage to these cells could affect a person’s abilities to remember and to learn.

At this point, scientists do not know if this damage is permanent, or if those damaged cells will replace themselves. Also, it is not known if this loss of cells affects behavior or the ability to think. In 2003, German researchers used PET scans to study the brains of current and past users of ecstasy. This research demonstrated that ecstasy users had lower levels of serotonin activity in several brain areas. However, ecstasy users who stopped using the drug 20 weeks before the scan showed some recovery in serotonin function.

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