-- Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Use of the illegal drug
ecstasy is associated with long-term changes in brain function, a
new study finds.
U.S. researchers used functional MRI to compare the brain's
response to visual stimulation in volunteers aged 18 to 35 who had
used ecstasy, though not within two weeks of the study, and those
who had never used the drug.
Ecstasy users with the highest lifetime exposure to the drug
showed increased activation in three areas of the brain associated
with visual processing. This suggests that ecstasy use is
associated with the loss of serotonin signaling, resulting in
increased activation, or hyper-excitability, of the brain, the
Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers said.
Hyper-excitability indicates a loss in brain efficiency, which
means it takes more brainpower to process information or perform a
In participants who had used ecstasy for more than a year, brain
activation did not return to normal after the visual stimulation
used in the study.
"We think this shift in cortical excitability may be chronic, long-lasting and even permanent," Dr. Ronald Cowan, an associate professor of psychiatry, said in a Vanderbilt news release. "The question is what will happen to their brains as they age over the next 60 years."
The findings are reported in the May issue of
About 14.2 million people aged 12 and older in the United States
have used ecstasy in their lifetime, according to the 2009 National
Survey on Drug Use and Health. About 760,000 had used the drug in
the month before being surveyed.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about
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