July 27, 2012 -- People who use the club drug ecstasy (MDMA) can develop memory problems, a new study shows.
In the study, new ecstasy users who took 10 or more ecstasy pills during their first year showed problems with their immediate and short-term memory.
The researchers say the memory problems may not be immediately apparent. Ecstasy users may not notice the problems until permanent damage has been done. The memory issues are associated with damage of an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory.
The study compared 23 new users of the drug to 43 people who didn't use any illicit drugs besides cannabis. On average, study participants who used ecstasy took 33 pills over the course of one year.
"Given the specific memory impairments, our findings may raise concerns in regard to MDMA use, even in recreational amounts over a relatively short time period," says study researcher Daniel Wagner, in an email. He is a psychologist at the Klinik fur Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie in Cologne, Germany.
The study is published in the journal Addiction.
Ecstasy Risks Go Beyond Memory Problems
"People often take ecstasy in combination with other substances, including alcohol and cocaine. And they often take it at parties, dances, and raves where they may become dehydrated and at risk for all sorts of physiological health problems," says Bruce Goldman, director of substance abuse services at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
And that's not all. "Ecstasy makes you feel all lovey-dovey. And this can lead to impaired judgment about sex," he says. In these scenarios, ecstasy puts people at risk for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Ecstasy is also highly addictive, Goldman says. Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that 43% of teens and young adults who use ecstasy are addicted. "Use of ecstasy is dangerous even if it's done occasionally."
Harris Stratyner, PhD, agrees. He is the vice president of the New York Clinical Regional Services at Caron Treatment Centers in New York City. He has seen how this drug can destroy lives.
"Ecstasy is an extremely dangerous hallucinogenic drug and we have known that for years," he says. "Even just going to a rave and taking one ecstasy pill puts you at risk for becoming overheated." Severe overheating can damage vital organs or lead to death.
"Using as little as 10 pills of ecstasy a year can have a deleterious effect on short-term memory and may even have a greater effect on all cognitive function," he says.