Pubdate: Mon, 20 Nov 2000
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd
Contact:  PO Box 496, London E1 9XN, United Kingdom
Fax: +44-(0)171-782 5046


YOUNG women have a much higher risk of dying as a result of taking Ecstasy 
than any other group, according to new research.

The drug is particularly toxic to women of reproductive age because high 
levels of the hormone oestrogen prevent their bodies from coping with water 
retention, which occurs as Ecstasy is metabolised.

The dangers are increased further if a woman taking Ecstasy drinks too much 
water, or if her body temperature is raised by an activity such as 
energetic dancing, researchers at King's College London, have found.

The study, which will be presented in London today at the annual meeting of 
the Society of Endocrinology, may help to explain the deaths of several 
young women from Ecstasy, such as Leah Betts, who died after taking the 
drug on her 18th birthday in 1995.

When Ecstasy is broken down in the body, it produces a second chemical 
called HMMA that stimulates the release of vasopressin, a hormone that 
encourages the body to retain water.

If too much water is retained as a result, the concentration of sodium in 
the body can fall to a dangerously low level, because it is diluted by the 
additional fluid. Sodium is critical to the functioning of the nervous 
system, and a lack of it can cause disorientation, convulsions, coma and death.

Whereas men and older women can tolerate very low levels of sodium, the 
hormonal balance of young women means that they need much higher sodium 
concentrations in their bloodstream, putting them at greater risk.

Dancing can also increase the danger because high body temperatures also 
stimulate the release of vasopressin, causing further water retention. 
Drinking a lot of water also worsens the condition.

Mary Forsling, professor of neuroendocrinology at King's College, who led 
the research, said the results showed that Ecstasy was very dangerous. "The 
way that young women, in particular, respond to Ecstasy places them at 
risk, though these effects can apply to anyone who takes the drug.

"Ecstasy is especially dangerous because of the circumstances in which 
people take it. Dancing raises the body temperature, you drink a lot, your 
hormones tell your body to retain the water, you drink more. It is 
something of a vicious circle."

Professor Forsling said that clubbers needed to drink plenty of water to 
avoid dehydration and hyperthermia, which could also be fatal, but they 
should be extemely careful if they were also taking Ecstasy.

She added that Ecstasy was also highly unpredictable because it was HMMA, 
the drug's by-product, that caused the most severe reactions.

"A whole range of factors that are peculiar to every individual will govern 
how much HMMA is produced as Ecstasy is metabolised, and therefore the 
level of toxicity.

"You simply cannot know for certain how you are going to respond to this 
drug, and if your body breaks it down in a particular way, the consequences 
could be fatal."

Differing reactions to Ecstasy could explain several cases in which two or 
more clubbers had taken similar amounts of the drug from similar batches, 
but only one had had a serious or fatal reaction, Professor Forsling said.

An average of 11 people die in Britain each year as a result of taking 
Ecstasy, according to figures published in February by the Office for 
National Statistics. The figure has been falling since 1994, when it 
reached a peak of 27. Ecstasy is also held responsible for many more deaths 
in which it was taken with other substances such as alcohol.
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MAP posted-by: Terry F