Regular consumption of ecstasy and similar recreational drugs may cause memory lapse in users, a new British study has suggested.
This is the first study to have uncovered potential links between memory loss and cocaine.
Florentia Hadjiefthyvoulou, John Fisk, and Nikola Bridges from the University of Central Lancashire and Catharine Montgomery from Liverpool John Moores University wanted to investigate the link between deficits in prospective memory (remembering to remember, or remembering to perform an intended action) and drug use.
For the study, the researchers analysed 42 ecstasy/polydrug users (14 males, 28 females) and 31 non-users (5 males, 26 females). All the volunteers were students. They were quizzed about their drug habits (including tobacco, cannabis and alcohol), and given questionnaires to evaluate their everyday memory, cognitive failures and prospective and retrospective memory. Thereafter, they given a number of lab-based memory tests, including some that required students to remember something several weeks later.
The results demonstrated that recreational drugs such as ecstasy, or the regular use of several drugs, affect users' memory functions, even when tests are controlled for cannabis, tobacco or alcohol use. Fisk said memory deficits were evident in both lab-based and self-reported measurements of subjects' prospective memory.
The results also suggested that ecstasy/polydrug users "possess some self awareness of their memory lapses." The authors say that although ecstasy/polydrug users as a whole are aware of their memory problems they may be uncertain as to which illicit drug is behind the defects they perceive.
Fisk said: "The present results suggest that these deficits are likely to be real rather than imagined and are evident in both time- and event-based prospective memory contexts.
"Further research is needed to clarify whether the cocaine-related deficits are limited to the ecstasy/polydrug population or whether they might be present among those persons whose recreational use is largely confined to cocaine."
The study has appeared in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, published by SAGE.