Study reveals impact of Ecstasy on memory
A major study led by psychologists at Swansea University on the effects of Ecstasy (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA) has revealed that frequent users of the drug will experience memory problems and difficulties in acquiring fact-based knowledge.
Ecstasy, a member of the amphetamine family, is one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the UK. The drug's active chemical, MDMA, affects the brain chemical serotonin, which aids the transmission of messages between nerve cells.
It is believed that serotonin plays an important role in how the human body processes thoughts and regulates sleeping and eating patterns.
The study, led by Swansea University's Head of Psychology, Professor Mark Blagrove, assessed the effects of Ecstasy/MDMA on story memory and skills learning, the latter using a finger tapping keyboard task.
The research was a collaborative project with Professor Andy Parrott (Swansea University), Dr Michael Morgan (University of Sussex), Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Berkeley. It was funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
The study was carried out across several different participating groups,
* people who do not take illegal drugs;
* people who take various drugs but don't take Ecstasy;
* Ecstasy users who had taken the drug two to three days before the first testing session;
* and Ecstasy users who had not taken the drug for at least eight days before the first testing session.
For the story memory task, participants were asked to recall details of a short newspaper-type story about a fire on a farm. The study found that people who had taken Ecstasy two to three days before hearing about the article could only recall 83% of the details that non-drug takers were able to recall.
Professor Blagrove explains: "Importantly, the study ensured that the Ecstasy users were obtaining as much sleep as the non-drug takers, and so this result is not due to lack of sleep or the drug-taking lifestyle.
"The study also looked at how well Ecstasy users could learn a typing task. In contrast to the story memory task, the Ecstasy users had no problems learning this skill. Consequently, it appears that Ecstasy seems to affect memory for facts rather than the learning of new motor
"The study means that certain aspects of work and employment will be a problem for frequent Ecstasy users. Although they may be able to learn simple skills, the more complicated learning of knowledge, as a series
of facts, is harmed by Ecstasy."
The study's main findings were presented at a major international conference on Ecstasy held at Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia, in September 2008, and are to be published in the academic journal Neuropsychobiology.
For further information about Swansea University's School of Human Sciences, please visits www.swansea.ac.uk/human_sciences .