Pubdate: Fri, 27 Sep 2002
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2002 The State
Author: Donald G. Mcneil Jr., The New York Times


The amount of the drug Ecstasy that some recreational users take in a 
single night might cause permanent brain damage and lead to symptoms like 
those of Parkinson's disease, a study in primates has found.

But critics say that the monkeys and baboons in the study were given huge 
overdoses of the drug and that the kind of damage the researchers found has 
never been found in autopsies or brain scans of humans who took large amounts.

Dr. George Ricaurte of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who 
led the study, said its most disturbing finding was that just two or three 
Ecstasy tablets can damage the cells that produce dopamine, a brain 
chemical that helps control movement, emotions and the ability to feel 

To mimic the aging process, he gave some primates another drug that 
destroys dopamine production, and he found that those that had taken both 
Ecstasy and the dopamine-killing drug moved less than those given only the 
dopamine reducer, suggesting that Ecstasy users could suffer the same 
consequences as they aged. The study appears today in the journal Science.

But a psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital in New York and the leader of an 
organization that wants to test the psychiatric benefits of Ecstasy said 
Ricaurte's doses -- delivered by injection, not tablet -- were far greater 
than a human user could stand. Two of the 10 monkeys and baboons died of 
heatstroke, they noted, and two more were in such distress that they were 
not given a third shot.

Dr. Una McCann, a psychiatrist who co-wrote the new study along with her 
husband, Ricaurte, said the doses were "actually slightly less" than a 
human might take.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a methamphetamine. Chronic users report 
never being able to repeat the pleasure of their first highs, and the drug 
apparently depletes the brain's reserves of dopamine and serotonin, which 
communicate pleasurable feelings.
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