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The BBC's Julie Etchingham
"The effects could be far more long lasting than previously thought"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
Ecstasy 'damages mental health'
Ecstasy
Ecstasy is widely used by clubbers in the UK
By the BBC's Julie Etchingham

Research due to be published later in the summer will claim to have further evidence that regular ecstasy users could seriously damage their long term mental health.

Deaths linked to ecstasy are at a record high, with the rate of people dying after taking the drug almost trebling so far this year.


Ecstasy is one of the most pernicious and damaging drugs available

Dr Michael Morgan
But some experts are claiming these statistics mask another threat posed by the drug to a far wider range of people.

The risk of dying after taking a tablet is one in a million - but the chances of long term mental illness after regular use are thought to be much higher. One in ten could be affected.

Dr Michael Morgan, of Sussex University, has carried out new research which looks into serotonin levels in the brains of people who regularly take E.

Serotonin is the body's natural chemical which lifts a person's mood.

Re-evaluation

As a result of his studies, Dr Morgan says we need to completely re-evaluate our understanding of ecstasy, which is regularly taken by around half a million people in Britain.

"In the early nineties, it was thought of as a soft drug, analogous to cannabis but we now know that ecstasy is one of the worst drugs in terms of its long term harm potential.

"It is more neurotoxic to the serotonin system than any other drug we know, and this kind of permanent brain damage is something you don't see with other drugs.

"Ecstasy is one of the most pernicious and damaging drugs available - and at the same time the second most popular drug in use. It's a major issue"

Anecdotal evidence

Anecdotal evidence may support Dr Morgan's findings.

We spoke to one ecstasy user who had taken ecstasy nearly every weekend for six years from the age of 13.


I would end up in casualty three times a week because I thought I was dying

Ecstasy user
She started to suffer panic attacks and severe depression.

"I would end up in casualty three times a week because I thought I was dying - my mum had to sleep in my bed for a year. I was in and out of counsellors and psychiatrists' offices, on and off anti-depressants.

"I had complete agoraphobia. I was just a mess - and couldn't manage to do anything for over a year"

Her serotonin levels were measured and found to be two thirds below normal.

Her doctor linked this to her ecstasy use and told her she would have to take medication for the rest of her life.

Sceptics

But despite stories like this, some are sceptical about Dr Morgan's research.

Matthew Southwell works for a charity called the Dance Drugs Alliance. It aims to give clubbers accurate information about the substances some of them take.

He said: "I've been taking ecstasy for 12 years.

"We're not seeing loads of people going into major depression, we're not seeing people going down with the tremors -so where are all these people?

"If some experts are saying that in 20 years or 30 years time there may be a problem - then let's have an open dialogue about it. For me the jury's still out"

Dr Morgan's research though has set alarm bells ringing with other scientists in Spain and Italy, who are also assessing the effects of ecstasy use.

They and others are now calling on the EU to fund a three year study into the drug. The serious side of the happy drug could be about to come under its closest scrutiny yet.

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18 Dec 00 | Health
Ecstasy brain damage link
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