Ecstasy might be linked to mental deficits
The drug ecstasy’s lesser-known physical harm is being scrutinized by University of Cincinnati researchers on two fronts with the help of a grant worth more than $400,000.
Krista Medina, an assistant professor of psychology and Judith Strong, a research associate professor of anesthesiology at UC are co-principal investigators in the study. The research revolves around the drug MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy.
“We are looking at ecstasy and the brain,” Medina said. “We are more interested in the chronic effects.”
The National Institutes of Health is funding the project with a two-year, $471,000 grant.
Medina, who is responsible for the portion of the study regarding the brain and MDMA’s affects, is building on results she gathered from the last three years.
Results limited to 500 university students in 2007 found 14 percent used the drug sometime in their life while approximately 7 percent did it within the year. Results in 2008 showed the same percentage of the latter.
Ecstasy itself is unique in that it is both a stimulant and a psychotic drug.
Serotonin transporters are also potentially affected by use of MDMA.
Serotonin, while functioning normally in the human body, is partly responsible for sleep, depression and, one of the study’s main focuses, memory.
In order to map the effects of ecstasy, Medina and Strong are using brain imaging and examining the DNA of subjects.
Strong’s study will involve genetics and serotonin transporters in the subjects.
“The idea is, there’s one gene that makes you susceptible to the
effects of ecstasy,” Strong said. “It’s the genes that make you more susceptible in a certain environment. Most psychiatric drugs deal with [serotonin transports.]”
Strong emphasized how, like cancer, it is a question of susceptibility and not so much as a cause.
“With things like hemophilia, if you have the genes, you have the disease,” Strong said. “It’s not genes that produce something like alcoholism – alcohol is involved.”
The study will begin recruiting former ecstasy users within the week. Altogether, the project will include 150 people with 50 people in three categories: those who took ecstasy, former marijuana users and a control group. The purpose of the former marijuana users is to
compare any memory loss with those who used MDMA.
“People that have used [ecstasy] have 10 to 20 times the normal memory deficit,” Medina said. “That’s what’s particularly alarming
Medina also did studies on effects of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana along with her data collection on MDMA in the past.
MDMA’s usage in the Cincinnati area, however, is not as prevalent as in some places.
“MDMA indicators were reported as mixed in the
Midwestern region,” according to the Community Epidemiology
Work Group Report published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Inidactions of MDMA use were low to moderate in St. Louis and Cincinnati, but stable in Detroit.
The members of the control group have already been tested and approximately 30 people of the 50-person groups will have their brains scanned and studied.
By Gin A. Ando | The News Record
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Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009