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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 14:40 GMT
Ecstasy 'harms women more than men'
Ecstasy is widely used by clubbers in the UK
Women who use ecstasy for long-periods are more at risk of suffering brain-cell damage than men, according to new research.

A study carried out by academics in Holland revealed that excessive use of the drug damages serotonin neurons in a woman's brain to a greater extent than in a man's.

Although the study is timely and potentially important, the small sample size and methodological questions limit confidence in conclusions

George Ricaurte
Serotonin is a chemical in the body which is known to influence mood and memory.

Damage to serotonin neurons can lead to psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

However, the researchers also found that such damage could be reversible in women who stopped using the drug.

Reversible damage

The study, led by Dr Liesbeth Reneman from the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, involved 69 people - 23 heavy ecstasy users, 15 moderate users, 16 ex-users and 15 who claimed never to have used the drug.

The results showed that damage to or loss of serotonin neurons in women who were heavy ecstasy users was significantly higher.

But in women who had stopped using the drug for one year or more the neurons appeared to have re-appeared.

In men there was no significant difference in the number of serotonin neurons, whether they were heavy users or not.

Previous research, using the same people, revealed that even when people had stopped using ecstasy they still suffered from memory loss.

Dr Reneman said: "Our research could suggest that there is regeneration of non-functional serotonin neurons."

Commenting on the findings, George Ricaurte, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA, said further studies were needed.

He said: "Although the study is timely and potentially important, the small sample size and methodological questions limit confidence in conclusions about differences between sexes or possibility of reversibility of the effects of ecstasy in human beings."

Harry Shapiro, director of communications at drugs charity, DrugScope, said: "DrugScope welcomes this new research which is a valuable contribution to the growing body of scientific evidence on the long term effects of moderate to heavy use of ecstasy.

"However, the scientific evidence is still growing and it would be unwise to treat the findings of such a small study as conclusive evidence.

"More in-depth and varied studies must be carried out to rigorously research the long term effects of the drug."

Dr Reneman's study appears in the Lancet.

See also:

11 Jul 01 | Health
Ecstasy 'damages mental health'
18 Dec 00 | Health
Ecstasy brain damage link
09 May 01 | E-F
Ecstasy: The health dangers
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