A new study has found that even low doses of Ecstasy, an illicit recreational drug popular among young people may be associated with a decline in language-related memory.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Thelma Schilt at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.
As part of the study, researchers recruited 188 volunteers, with average age of 22, who had not used Ecstasy earlier but reported that they were likely to try it soon. Within three years of the initial evaluations, which took place between April 2002 and April 2004, 58 individuals began using Ecstasy.
The volunteers were compared with 60 individuals who had the same age, sex and intelligence score but who did not use Ecstasy during the follow-up period.
All participants took tests that assessed various types of memory including attention, verbal memory for words and language, and visual memory for images, at the beginning and end of the study.
Researchers tested verbal memory by asking the participants to memorize a series of 15 words and recall them immediately and again 20 minutes later.
The study found that the people using Ecstasy had a lower recalling power in the follow-up as compared to those who did not use the drug during the follow-up period.
“At the initial examination, there were no statistically significant differences in any of the neuropsychological test scores between persistent Ecstasy-naïve subjects and future Ecstasy users,” the authors wrote.
“However, at follow-up, change scores on immediate and delayed verbal recall and verbal recognition were significantly lower in the group of incident Ecstasy users compared with persistent Ecstasy-naïve subjects. There were no significant differences on other test scores,” the authors added.
Researchers also found that there was no difference in the drug’s effect between the sexes.
The fact that Ecstasy appeared to affect only verbal memory, points to specific brain areas and chemicals that may be affected by the drug.
“The main underlying factor seems to be a depletion of serotonin in Ecstasy users, a depletion that might be reversible. Serotonin is involved in several cognitive functions but might be especially relevant to learning and memory,” the authors wrote.
“In conclusion, our data indicate that low doses of Ecstasy are associated with decreased verbal memory function, which is suggestive for Ecstasy-induced neurotoxicity,” the authors concluded.
The findings of the study were published in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.