Pubdate: Wed, 27 Mar 2002
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Randy Dotinga, Healthscout News Service
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


Ecstasy users claim the controversial club drug is like time-traveling to 

But a growing number of young people are turning to a dangerous chaser - 
Prozac - in a misguided and potentially dangerous bid to make sure their 
brains will work properly upon their return, health experts say.

"People are definitely doing it," says Dr. Julie Holland, author of a book 
on ecstasy and an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University 
School of Medicine. "I understand it's a pretty popular thing for those who 
have access to prescription medicines."

Ecstasy is the street name for the synthetic drug MDMA, which is part 
amphetamine and part hallucinogen. It's often taken in dance clubs and 
underground parties known as "raves" because it stimulates the body, 
allowing people to dance for long periods.

The drug also distorts a person's perception of time and space, causing a 
"trip" that has been compared to LSD. And some ecstasy advocates say the 
drug gives them "insight into life" and feelings of peace.

The concerns about ecstasy-Prozac cocktails come as a just-released report 
says ecstasy use is soaring among American teens.

Although overall drug use remained steady in 2001, the number of teens who 
admitted to trying ecstasy jumped by 20 percent. Use of the drug has risen 
71 percent since 1999, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free 
America, which issued the report.

While much isn't known about ecstasy's effects on the mind and body, 
scientists and doctors think it can cause heart, kidney and brain damage, 
especially if used repeatedly.

What is known is that ecstasy boosts the amount of the neurotransmitter 
serotonin in the brain by preventing it from being "recycled," Holland says.

Scientists believe serotonin regulates mood, and they suspect depletion of 
it after ecstasy use can cause depression.

Ecstasy also appears to allow damage to brain receptors that sense the 
presence of serotonin, meaning the brain may not be able to recognize the 
neurotransmitter, Holland says.

No one has ever proven that the use of antidepressants like Prozac will 
prevent long-term damage from ecstasy use. But animal studies, including 
one from Western Michigan University published in 1999, suggest there may 
be a protective effect. And an organization that advocates the use of drugs 
like ecstasy recommends the ecstasy-Prozac combo.

"It certainly wouldn't hurt," claims Ian Baker, technical director of 
DanceSafe, which bills itself as an information source on drugs used in 
dance clubs.

Health experts aren't so sure. But, they say there's no doubt that many 
ecstasy users are curious about whether Prozac can keep them out of harm's way.

Greg Hayner, chief pharmacist with the drug-abuse treatment unit at the 
Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco, says no one should be 
surprised that ecstasy users are keeping abreast of research like that 
coming out of Western Michigan.

"You're looking at people in their late teens and early 20s, a lot of whom 
are college students," he says. "You've got this generation that's come up 
using computers and researching. This is the sort of thing that appeals to 
people like that."

But Hayner adds, ecstasy users are fooling themselves about Prozac's 
protective effects.

"They're using the research to justify their drug use, to make themselves 
feel better about it and feel like they're not causing any major damage," 
he says.

Experts say there are definite risks to mixing the drugs. Ecstasy can 
reduce Prozac's ability to calm depression. And a combination of both drugs 
could harm the heart, says pharmacist Darryl Inaba, chief executive of the 
Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics.

The warnings about ecstasy-Prozac use haven't stopped groups like DanceSafe 
from promoting Prozac in some cases. Baker, the organization's technical 
director, says counselors tell ecstasy users that Prozac may help them 
avoid "brain poisoning," especially if they only take ecstasy five or six 
times a year.

"We advise people to use Prozac to reduce neurotoxicity," Baker says. 
"These are people who, for the most part, are using psychoactive substances 
on their own, anyway. It's probably good to go in and become as informed as 

But health experts like NYU's Holland urge people to steer clear of 
ecstasy. They warn about potential side effects, including nausea, blurred 
vision, faintness, chills or sweating, and increases in heart rate and 
blood pressure.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom