Women are more likely than men to suffer brain cell damage from long-term use of the party drug ecstasy but the harm can sometimes be reversed if they stop taking the drug. Studies have shown that the popular all-night dance drug, known chemically as MDMA, can damage nerve endings that release serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood, memory, sleep and sex. The drug also appears to damage brain cells that transmit nerve signals.
In a study, scientists at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam have shown that women are more vulnerable to the brain cell damage. The researchers studied 54 people whose use of the drug varied from moderate to heavy. Sixteen had given up the drug for more than a year. Using sensitive imaging techniques they compared the density of serotonin receptors in different parts of the brain. The scientists found substantial decreases in density among heavy female users of the drug but not in the men. Women who had stopped using the drug had higher densities than the heavy users.
AdvertisementThe heavy use of MDMA is associated with neurotoxic effects on serotonin neurons, that women might be more susceptible than men, and that MDMA-induced neurotoxic changes in several brain regions of female ex-MDMA users are reversible.