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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

The Agony of Ecstasy: Memory Loss

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The ecstasy users' vocabulary skills also declined, as did their abilities to remember people's names and to remember how to get from one place to another.

"The subjects were listening to a news story and they found it difficult to remember the story after a delay," Zakzanis says. "They reported driving and forgetting where they were going, but didn't forget how to drive a car. And they had difficulty remembering names when introduced to someone."

Zakzanis says heavy ecstasy users also lost the ability to remember to do something in the future. "The more chronic users were impaired more greatly than sporadic users -- so the more you use this drug, the more function you lose," he says.

Una D. McCann, MD, led several studies of ecstasy's effects while a section chief at the National Institute of Mental Health. Now an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, she continues this research and is familiar with Zakzanis's work.

"We and actually a handful of other groups have found that [ecstasy] users don't perform as well on a variety of tests for [mental] functions -- but the one problem that comes up most is memory," McCann tells WebMD. "It seems that the more complicated a memory task is, the more of a deficit we see."

The Zakzanis study is the first to follow patients over time, McCann says. "It takes away a lot of the criticisms of other studies, because people say maybe the subjects had worse memory to begin with. But the finding that the users got worse over the course of a year counteracts that complaint -- that's the beauty of this study."

Zakzanis says that the ecstasy users in his study are still coming in for tests. Some of them have quit using the drug -- but only time will tell whether the damage to their brains can be undone.

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