Research linking ecstasy to brain damage ‘flawed’
Scientific evidence that ecstasy damages the brain is fundamentally flawed and has misled politicians and the public, a report claims.
An inquiry by New Scientist magazine concluded that many of the findings published in respected journals cannot be trusted.
Similar uncertainty surrounds evidence that ecstasy impairs mental performance, according to New Scientist. In the majority of tests of mental agility, ecstasy users performed as well as non-users.
Marc Laruelle, an expert on brain scanning at Columbia University, New York City, said: “All the papers have very significant scientific limitations that make me uneasy.”
He pointed out that the chemical probes used in ecstasy brain scans do not always stick solely to serotonin transporters.
Psychologist Andrew Parrott, of the University of East London, found ecstasy users outperformed non-users in tests requiring them to rotate complex shapes in their mind’s eye.
Ecstasy users did perform worse when learning new verbal information. But according to Mr Parrott their performance still lay well within the range of what counts as normal.
At the centre of the controversy are scans which allegedly show that ecstasy destroys nerve cells involved in the production and transport of serotonin, a vital brain chemical.
Serotonin allows neurons to communicate with each other across nerve connections called synapses. It is involved in a wide range of functions including memory, sleep, sex, appetite, and primarily, mood.
In an editorial, the magazine said: “Our investigation suggests the experiments are so irretrievably flawed that the scientific community risks haemorrhaging credibility if it continues to let them inform public policy.”
New Scientist says it is an open secret that some researchers who failed to find impairment in ecstasy users had trouble getting their findings published. The Lancet medical journal has declined to comment on the report.