ECSTASY LOSES ITS RISK-FREE ALLURE
Research shows that clubbers' drug can lead to long-term dependence,
reports Jamie Doward
Ecstacy in barely 20 years, has become the drug of choice for a nation
of clubbers and is taken by up to 700,000 people in Britain every
week. It's seen as a no-risk, hangover-free designer drug for people
who party hard at weekends but suffer no obvious comedown in the week.
As supply has soared and demand increased among 15- to 24-year-olds,
the price of the 'happy pill' has fallen to as little as UKP3. However,
research unveiled at a scientific conference yesterday links ecstasy
to mental health problems that are prompting long-term users to give
Three separate reports, published at the British Psychological
Society's meeting this weekend, tell of a drug that restricts mental
ability, causes long-term sleep disturbance and encourages
The reports are likely to be seized on by those scientists who have
insisted for years that ecstasy is harmful but who failed to win the
PR war when it came to backing up their claims.
They were dealt a severe blow last September, when US scientists at
Johns Hopkins University in Maryland retracted claims linking ecstasy
use to brain damage, admitting that their research was flawed. The US
team confessed they had mistakenly fed monkeys amphetamine rather than
Now the new research is likely to provoke calls for further
investigation into the side-effects of a drug that was linked to the
deaths of 72 people in the UK in 2002, the latest figures available.
'In America, users seem to be more aware that there are dangers with
ecstasy. But in the UK, especially among 15- to 24-year-old users who
take it quite a lot, there is a lack of awareness of what it may
result in later,' said Lynn Taurah, a psychology researcher at London
Taurah was part of a team that studied the effects of a range of drugs
on sleep patterns. About 1,000 people were divided into different
groups - non-drug-takers; those who drank and smoked; users of a
number of drugs; those who took just ecstasy; and former ecstasy users.
Participants filled in a questionnaire that produced a picture of
their sleep patterns and came up with a score of one to 21: the higher
the figure, the more disturbed the sleep. The control's score was
four. Ecstasy users registered between 11 and 12, significantly higher
than the other groups.
Former ecstasy users - some of whom hadn't touched the
drug for seven
years - registered 9.5, suggesting to the researchers that 'the
effects of the drug on sleep are long-lasting'.
The links between sleep disturbance and ecstasy had not been
documented before, so that the findings will provide counsellors with
ammunition to warn users about the dangers of taking the drug.
'Many users have reported disrupted sleeping patterns from drugs such
as cocaine, crack cocaine and amphetamine in particular, but we have
no data clearly relating ecstasy use to sleeping disorders such as
insomnia,' said Peter Martin, chief executive of the drug and alcohol
treatment charity, Addaction. 'All new research data on this is
welcome, of course, because we need to ensure we are responding with
correct treatment,' Martin added.
The results appear to corroborate earlier studies of monkeys, which
found that primates experienced chronic sleep disturbance when
subjected to four days of consecutive ecstasy injections.
Taurah said she hoped the study's findings would act as a wake-up
call. 'Sleep is a fundamental part of life. Its disturbance has an
effect on concentration and has been shown to increase accidents on
the road, in the home and at work. There are also clear links between
sleep disturbance and depression,' Taurah said.
A separate study by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University
tried to gauge the effects of ecstasy on mental ability. A group of
users and another of non-users were asked to perform a range of tasks
such as writing down all the four-letter words beginning with the
letter C that they could think of in five minutes.
The scientists found that those who took ecstasy could recall an
average of 10 words, while those who did not came up with 16. 'These
differences are statistically significant,' said Dr Phillip Murphy,
who presented the paper. 'In all tests, we found that users did not
perform as well as non-users.'
Murphy also interviewed more than 300 ecstasy users to gauge whether
their opinion of the drug had changed as they continued to use it. His
research found that long-term users constantly weighed the pros and
cons and that, after two years, its appeal started to wane.
Of the 328 people surveyed, only 20 who had been using the drug for
seven years or more believed that the pluses outweighed the minuses.
Nevertheless, the study found that, even after two years, the majority
of users still felt sufficiently positive about the drug's effects to
keep using it.
'It is likely that some users come to prefer the person they are, and
the world they experience, under the influence of the drug. This may
be seen as a form of psychological dependence, even though they are
not physically addicted to it,' Murphy said.
ECSTASY: THE FACTS
Scientific name: methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Also known as
Cost of a pill in 1994: UKP20
Cost of a pill in 2004: UKP3-UKP5
Number of pills consumed each week in Britain according to the National
Criminal Intelligence Service: between 500,000 and 2 million
Number of ecstasy-related deaths of people in the UK in 1996:
Number of ecstasy-related deaths of people in the UK in 2002:
Percentage of the UK population that took ecstasy in 1990:
Percentage of the UK population that took ecstasy in 2003:
Total number of tonnes of ecstasy produced a year: 120