Pubdate: Fri, 19 Apr 2002
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2002 New Zealand Herald
Author: Andrew Laxon
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


Research which claims to prove Ecstasy damages the brain is flawed 
and misleading, says New Scientist magazine.

In its issue published yesterday, the magazine says scans showing 
dark blotches in the brains of Ecstasy users have played a central 
role in public information campaigns and contributed greatly to 
belief in the dangers of the drug since 1998.

Last year, the brain scans - supposedly showing damaged brain cells - 
featured in an official report that led to longer prison sentences 
for Ecstasy offenders in the United States.

But independent scientists quoted by New Scientist say the brain 
scans used for the original study, published in The Lancet, were so 
imprecise that the results are highly suspect. Similar limitations 
applied to later research.

The studies apparently showed that Ecstasy destroys nerve cells 
involved in the production and transportation of serotonin, a vital 
brain chemical involved in memory, sleep, sex, appetite and, 
primarily, mood.

They used glowing radioactive tagging to highlight these nerve cells 
and found the brains of Ecstasy users shone less brightly than 

But the magazine says the way brains reacted to the scan varied 
enormously, regardless of Ecstasy use.

Some drug-free brains glowed 40 times brighter than others and some 
Ecstasy brains were 10 times brighter or more than non-users' brains.

It says the experiments' raw data has been obscured until now by the 
way the researchers analysed and presented their results, which have 
been criticised by other scientists.

"There are no holes in the brains of Ecstasy users," said Stephen 
Kish, a neuropathologist at the Center for Addiction and Health in 

"And if anyone wants a straightforward answer to whether Ecstasy 
causes any brain damage, it's impossible to get one from these 

Marc Laruelle, a Columbia University expert on brain scanning probes, 
agreed: "All the papers have very significant scientific limitations 
that make me uneasy."

New Scientist said the British and US Governments should stop using 
the studies to defend crackdowns on the drug. "Our inquiry does not 
prove Ecstasy is harmless, but it does raise serious questions about 
the quality of the evidence being used to inform drugs policies."

The researchers, George Ricaurte and Una McCann, of Johns Hopkins 
University in Baltimore, Maryland, have defended their work.
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