The Real Concern is Users’ Health in the Long Term

MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a popular psychoactive substance found in the recreational drug ‘Ecstasy’. Despite its frequent mention in the media in relation to ecsasy pills for sale online caused by hyperthermia (overheating, often as a result of dehydration and excessive physical activity) or hyponatremia (excessive consumption of water, resulting in death), serious MDMA acute adverse events seem rare – with approximately two in one hundred thousand users having a reaction resulting in death. The real health concern it seems, is not in the short term risks of MDMA. But rather the alarmingly large number of habitual and long-term users of MDMA who regularly knock their neurotransmitters ‘out of whack’, every weekend.

This long term abuse is worrying because MDMA is a relatively new drug and as such there have been no studies on long-term MDMA users. More so, MDMA has a very unique basis of mechanism – significantly altering the serotonin systems of the brain. Furthermore, recent research conducted on both non-human primates and humans has found differences between MDMA user’s brains and performance measures compared to non-MDMA users. MDMA causes an increase in the concentrations of three neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin (5HT), norepinephrine (NE), and dopamine (DA). Its primary release of serotonin is said to be the cause of the majority of Ecstasy’s positive side effects (empathy and euphoria), the depression users feel after using the drug and also the neurotoxic changes found in MDMA user’s brains.

These effects come as no surprise, as serotonin is the neurotransmitter primarily responsible for regulating emotion, sleep, and mood. Current research on MDMA and the brain has brought conflicting and complex results. Animal research has shown much research on MDMA and potential damaging effects it has on the human brain. There is a huge library of literature demonstrating differences in memory, language, and brain functioning between MDMA users and non-users; and non-human experiments showing irregular serotonin axon regrowth in various close genetic relatives of ours. However, much of the current research suffers from poor experimental design and experimental controls that are central to any scientific study and all too heavily associated correlation with causation.

Most research on ecstasy users can be categorized into two areas of study: neurofunctional measures and neurocognitive measures. Neurofunctional is loosely used to indicate measures of how the brain is working and measures of the concentration or density of neurochemicals. Neurocognitive measures refers to performance on standardized psychological tests of mental abilities. Research on ecstasy users supports associations between MDMA exposure and alterations in both neurofunctional and neurocognitive measures.

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