Researchers from the University of Liverpool have conducted a study examining the effect ecstasy has on different parts of the brain.
Dr Carl Roberts and Dr Andrew Jones, from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, and Dr Cathy Montgomery from Liverpool John Moores University conducted
an analysis of seven independent studies that used molecular imaging to
examine the neuropsychological effect of ecstasy on people that use the
A number of studies have compared ecstasy users to control groups on
various measures of neuropsychological function in order to determine
whether ecstasy use results in lasting cognitive deficits.
Impacting emotional reactions
It is common, however, for ecstasy users to use other drugs alongside
the substance, and therefore the Liverpool team aimed to discover
whether this had any bearing on the impact of the drug.
The nerve pathway that is predominantly affected by ecstasy is called
the serotonin pathway. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is
synthesized, stored, and released by specific neurons in this pathway.
It is involved in the regulation of several processes within the brain,
including mood, emotions, aggression, sleep, appetite, anxiety, memory,
They found that ecstasy users showed significant reductions in the
way serotonin is transported in the brain. This can have a particular
impact on regulating appropriate emotional reactions to situations.
said: “The research team conducted the analysis on seven papers that
fitted our inclusion criteria which provided us with data from 157
ecstasy users and 148 controls. 11 out of the 14 brain regions included
in analysis showed serotonin transporter (SERT) reductions in ecstasy
users compared to those who took other drugs.
“We conclude that, in line with animal data, the nerve fibres, or
axons, furthest away from where serotonin neurons are produced (in the
raphe nuclei) are most susceptible to the effects of MDMA. That is to
say that these areas show the greatest changes following MDMA use.
“The clinical significance of these findings is speculative, however
it is conceivable that the observed effects on serotonin neurons
contribute to mood changes associated with ecstasy/MDMA use, as well as
other psychobiological changes. Furthermore the observed effects on the
serotonin system inferred from the current analysis, may underpin the
cognitive deficits observed in ecstasy users.
“The study provides us with a platform for further research into the
effect long term chronic ecstasy use can have on brain function.”