UK government's drug policy advisory points out that ecstasy causes slight memory difficulties and mild depression, but they rarely translate into problems in the real world.
The UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) came to this conclusion after undertaking the biggest ever review to determine whether ecstasy damages health in the long term.
The review suggests that smaller studies do show that some individuals have problems like weakened immunity and larger memory deficits, but for most people ecstasy seems to be nowhere near as harmful over time as one may have been led to believe.
The committee may soon recommend downgrading ecstasy from a class A drug to a class B, putting it on a par with cannabis in terms of harmfulness.
The ACMD based their review largely on a study they commissioned from Gabriel Rogers and Ruth Garside of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK. They pulled together all the research from around the world that attempted to assess the health of people who had taken ecstasy, and reanalyzed the data from the 110 studies that dealt with long-term effects.
The committee found that compared with non-users, people who took even a small amount of ecstasy at some point consistently performed worse on psychometric tests, which measure mental performance, especially memory, attention and executive function, which includes decision-making and planning.
The most pronounced effects are on memory, mainly verbal and working memory.
Rogers, however, says that subtle differences in lab tests do not necessarily translate into real-life problems.
"They're statistically significant, but whether they are clinically significant is another matter," New Scientist magazine quoted him as saying.
He pointed out that there is little evidence that people are actually affected by the memory and attention deficits picked up in the lab tests.
"They don't seem to be very big and it is not clear that they have much effect on day-to-day functioning," he says.
Although people who have taken ecstasy score worse on standard depression tests than those who haven't, the scores aren't bad enough to warrant a diagnosis from a doctor.
"There's no indication that they are drifting out of normal functioning," says Rogers.
Rogers, however, cautions that it is too soon to give ecstasy the all-clear in the long term, as some effects on health might simply kick in even later.
"It's possible that ecstasy has horrific consequences later in life. Only time will tell," he says.