Ecstasy, the 'party drug' that is used illegally to stimulate feelings of euphoria and emotional warmth is the subject of debate about its potential use in treating stress disorders.
The drug is undergoing clinical trials as a potential therapeutic strategy for post-traumatic stress disorder. The issue has come up that its negative effects are probably being exaggerated.
Ronald Cowan, associate professor of Psychiatry and his team of researchers have found in their study, reported in Neuropsychopharmacology
, that the drug is the cause of a chronic change in brain function.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in their study of brain activation during visual stimulation, on people who had used Ecstasy two weeks prior to imaging and in subjects who had not previously used Ecstasy. They found increased brain activation (hyper-excitability) in three brain areas associated with visual processing in Ecstasy users that is similar to that which is found in people who have or who are at high-risk for early Alzheimer's disease. The cortical excitability may be chronic, long-lasting, and even permanent, warned Cowan.
"... there's a loss of brain efficiency in both recreational Ecstasy use and early Alzheimer's," he added.