Washington D.C.: Also known as the love drug, ecstasy has been one of the most popular party drugs since the 1980s. For people, who are interested in knowing what happens in the brain when someone drops a bean, a new study is here to help us understand the chemicals at work.
Researchers Dr Carl Roberts and Dr Andrew Jones from the University of Liverpool, along with Dr Cathy Montgomery from Liverpool John Moores University, conducted an analysis of seven independent studies that used molecular imaging to examine the neuropsychological effect of ecstasy on people that use the drug regularly.
The nerve pathway that is predominantly affected by ecstasy is called the serotonin pathway. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized, stored, and released by specific neurons in this pathway. It is involved in the regulation of several processes within the brain, including mood, emotions, aggression, sleep, appetite, anxiety, memory, and perceptions.
They found that ecstasy users showed significant reductions in the way serotonin is transported in the brain. This can have a particular impact on regulating appropriate emotional reactions to situations.
Roberts said that the team conducted the analysis on seven papers that fitted our inclusion criteria which provided us with data from 157 ecstasy users and 148 controls. 11 out of the 14 brain regions included in analysis showed serotonin transporter (SERT) reductions in ecstasy users compared to those who took other drugs.
Roberts concluded that, in line with animal data, the nerve fibres, or axons, furthest away from where serotonin neurons are produced are most susceptible to the effects of MDMA. That is to say that these areas show the greatest changes following MDMA use.
He noted that the study provided them with a platform for further research into the effect long term chronic ecstasy use can have on brain function.
The study appears in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.