During the study, the first to analyze Ecstasy users before they begin to use the drug regularly, researchers tracked more than 100 recreational Ecstasy, or MDMA, users over the course of a year and found that they didn’t perform as well on a series of memory, brain processing speed, and attention span tests at the end of the study.
Of 149 participants who qualified, 23 had used more than 10 pills in the past year. It was this group that the researchers compared with nonusers.
“By measuring the cognitive function of people with no history of Ecstasy use and, one year later, identifying those who had used Ecstasy at least 10 times and remeasuring their performance, we have been able to start isolating the precise cognitive effects of this drug,” said study leader Daniel Wagner, a psychologist at the University of Cologne in Germany.
According to Wagner, the damage was most evident in associative memory. For example, Ecstasy users might be more apt to forget where they placed their car keys or cell phone.
“Given the relatively small amounts of MDMA that were used, and given the relatively short time period of one year, we were quite surprised at these specific effects,” Wagner explained.
While the findings of the study are a bit troubling, the impact they will have on future drug policy is unclear.
“Given the specific memory impairments, our findings may raise concerns in regard to MDMA use, even in recreational amounts over a relatively short time period,” Wagner said. “On the other hand, we did not find any impairment on other cognitive domains, and we didn’t focus on other relevant domains like psychopathology or social problems.”
Fox News reports that the researchers, who detail their findings online today (July 25) in the journal Addiction, plan a two-year follow-up study to investigate other effects of the drug.