Although mental health problems like anxiety disorders and depression have been linked to ecstasy use, researchers say it's not clear which comes first -- whether depression and anxiety lead to ecstasy use or ecstasy use leads to depression and anxiety.
But this study suggests that children with symptoms of anxiety or depression may be susceptible to using ecstasy in an attempt to relieve their symptoms.
In this study, published in the British Medical Journal, researchers looked at whether the use of ecstasy was preceded by mental health problems in a group of nearly 1,600 people in the Netherlands who were tracked from childhood into early adulthood.
Tracking Ecstasy Use
Researchers surveyed the mental health of the participants in 1983, before ecstasy emerged as a popular recreational drug in the Netherlands, and then looked at use of the drug among the study participants in a survey conducted 14 years later. The average age of participants was about 10 years old at the start of the study and 24.5 years old at the end of the study in 1997.
Overall, about 5% of the men and women reported using ecstasy at least five times by the time they were asked in the 1997 survey.
The results showed that children with symptoms of anxiety and depression were more than twice as likely as others to have used ecstasy later in life.
Researchers say ecstasy's effects are supposed to include enhanced feelings of bonding with other people, euphoria, and relaxation, and people with anxiety or depression may be particularly susceptible to these purported effects and attempt to use ecstasy to relieve their symptoms.
But they say long-term use of mood-altering substances like ecstasy may increase symptoms of depression and lead to further problems.
Researchers say additional studies are needed to further explain the link between mental health problems and the use of ecstasy.