Ectasy, the 'love drug' might be frowned upon.
Dancing at all-night raves combined with heat, heavier sweating, and failure to drink enough fluids can produce enormous harm. Ecstasy interferes with the body's ability to regulate temperature. It has been involved in deaths due to kidney or cardiovascular failure brought on by a very high body temperature and dehydration, campaigners could warn.
But a new study suggests that the drug causes a brain surge of oxytocin—the hormone that helps bond couples, as well as mothers to their babies.
Iain McGregor at the University of Sydney studied the effects of ecstasy in rats, which like people become more sociable on the drug.
'It's very characteristic behaviour. They lie next to each other and chill out,' McGregor says.
The team gave the rats the equivalent of two to three ecstasy tablets in an adult human and found that the drug activated oxytocin-containing neurons in an area of their brains called the hypothalamus.
When they gave the rats a drug that blocked brain receptors for oxytocin, the increased sociability almost entirely disappeared.
The finding ties in with reports from people on ecstasy about how they feel, McGregor says. Rodent studies have shown a massive surge of oxytocin after orgasm in males.
Earlier research found increased oxytocin in the blood of people who had taken ecstasy. However, many drugs increase blood oxytocin without raising it in the brain—something thought necessary for any 'pro-social' effects.
But McGregor has also revealed that long term consequences of administering ecstasy turn out to be very if done so in a hot, sweaty environment.
There is much research to be done on how drugs of abuse affect oxytocin in the brain, says McGregor. 'What we know at the moment could be written on the back of a postage stamp.'