tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Some research in to the effects of Ecstasy have been shown to have used the wrong drug in their tests, something much more powerful than Ecstasy (MDMA.)

The original results, with 2/10 monkeys dying and another 2 being severely brain damaged, were a little suspicious. If it was that strong you'd expect clubbers to be dropping left, right and centre. Also the quote from Colin Blakemore: "Whatever we think about the toxicity of Ecstasy, 40% of people using it each weekend do not die." is presumably taken out of context a little, as I don't remember 60% of people taking ecstasy dying every week, I'm pretty sure that would be a major discouragement for the people buying it.

Now, I really dislike Ecstasy (MDMA) on a psychological/biological level. It's a neurotoxin, and rats won't eat it voluntarily (they have are better at sensing neurotoxins than humans are) which is always a worry. But I always think the standard warning that "one tablet can kill" is a pretty pointless way of warning people. If they're surrounded by happy, dancing people who have taken pills from the same batch, the likelihood is you're not going to be worrying about the next pill being the one that kills you, and lets face it, the chances are it isn't going to. The long-term effects of Ecstasy are much more dangerous than that.

Ecstasy works on your serotonin system, which controls mood, as well as potentially various other parts of your brain. Ecstasy makes your brain release more serotonin than it normally would, which makes you feel happy about everything, which is great. Except, if you take enough, especially on a regular basis, you damage your neurones that release the serotonin, which is going to screw up the bit of your brain that controls mood.

Upshot? Well, for humans no one knows yet. This is rather unfortunate. Not having enough serotonin is linked to depression, which is why Prozac, which also works on the serotonin system is an effective anti-depressant. So, if there's a problem stuff like Prozac will fix it? Well, maybe not. Prozac works by making the serotonin that's released hang around for a bit longer, letting more of it be absorbed by the neurones it's trying to get to. If there is very little or no serotonin released, there just isn't enough to stimulate a reaction from the neurones waiting to receive it. No amount of Prozac or other specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the type of drug Prozac is, will help that.

Currently, if you run out of serotonin or damage the neurones that send it out, there is no way of fixing that. There is an interesting article in the current Scientific American Special Issue about new treatments to repair the brain, so there is some hope for the future. But if they don't pan out, or are too expensive, the outlook is generally bleak. There's a likelihood of depression of varying levels of severity. Serotonin and dopamine, which is closely related to serotonin and may also be affected by Ecstasy, are related to mood, attention and the feelings of your own energy levels. Dopamine is linked to Alzheimer's and Huntington's Chorea. If heavy Ecstasy use damages users dopamine system we could also be seeing Alzheimer and/or Huntington's-like symptoms, i.e. uncontrollable shaking, or uncontrolled freezing.

How much Ecstasy is dangerous? That's not known yet either, and is likely to vary greatly between people. Is one pill going to have an effect? Probably not. A couple of pills every weekend for six months? Don't know, but if you think it might give you depression in your forties or fifties and want to spend the rest of your life having treatment for it as there's no cure, well, at least you know that might be coming.

When I did my psychology degree people used to ask my why I was doing it, because it was perceived that there is no jobs in the field. Admittedly, I now work in IT rather than psychology, but being blunt about the situation: I think the UK, or the whole of the West and any other areas where Ecstasy use is high, is going to need a large number of psychologists, and neurologists and doctors, when my generation gets older to help with the large increase in depression and other Ecstasy-related problems.

So... I think there could be more than enough jobs for psychologists going around, I'm just not happy for the reason and hope I'm wrong about my predictions.

For further reading, you might want to check this recent study on rats given Ecstasy early in pregnancy. If further studies support their results, it might point to the children of people who have taken Ecstasy when pregnant having problems like Attention Deficit Disorder or other mood problems. The dangerous thing is, the affects happen early enough that the woman may not even know they're pregnant when they're taking the Ecstasy that's damaging their child. Very scary, as is most of the research on Ecstasy that I've found.
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