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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Ecstasy immediately damages memory
Ecstasy affects visual recognition abilities
Ecstasy affects visual recognition abilities
Even short-term use of ecstasy can damage the memory, researchers have found.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the University of East London in the UK showed ecstasy users performed worse in tests than people who used other drugs.

The researcher who led the study said her findings, and other evidence about long-term problems caused by ecstasy use, meant the drug should not be reclassified from Class A to Class B, as a Home Office committee has suggested.

But campaigners for DrugScope said it was hard to determine whether the results of this and other similar studies were significant.


We would not want studies such as these to derail sensible debate and detailed investigations about the current legal position of ecstasy."

Roger Howard, DrugScope
The research team studied 40 adults between the ages of 18 and 48.

All had used a variety of drugs including cocaine, LSD, cannabis and amphetamine.

Half used ecstasy regularly, taking an average of 170 tablets over a four-year period, and half had never used it.

'Significant effects'

They were set a series of tests usually used to identify cognitive problems in neurosurgical patients or patients with dementia.

Ecstasy users had significant problems in memory and visual recognition tests.

Dr Barbara Sahakian, reader in clinical neuropsychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, told BBC News Online: "These findings of memory problems due to ecstasy use should raise concerns, particularly since the group studied were only early-stage and not long-term users."

These are relatively young users, some were as young as 18.

"We found ecstasy had significant effects.

"These are young people who should be going on to higher education or in jobs and learning skills - and they have these cognitive impairments."

Dr Sahakian said she did not back declassification.

"It's not just our work, but based on the evidence that I think is very strong, I don't think it's is a good idea."

Dr Sahakian and her team are now looking at how people who have stopped taking ecstasy are affected.

Roger Howard, chief executive of the charity DrugScope said: "We have had a number of studies such as these that show some impact on the brain from taking ecstasy, but it is hard to come to any conclusions about whether or not the results are significant.

"DrugScope has long argued that there is no such thing as a harmless drug, whether legal or illegal - and we would not want studies such as these to derail sensible debate and detailed investigations about the current legal position of ecstasy."

He added the home secretary should refer the matter of declassification to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as happened with cannabis, so drug experts, scientists and doctors can make the decision on the basis of the evidence.

Mr Howard added: "The question is not whether ecstasy is dangerous, the question is whether it deserves a class A rating, placing it alongside drugs like crack and heroin."

Lesley King-Lewis is chief executive of Action on Addiction, the UK's only independent charity dedicated to seeking out the causes of addiction.

She said: "It has been suggested that up to half a million ecstasy tablets are consumed in the UK each weekend, so clearly the findings of this most recent research are significant and give cause for concern."

"We believe that more research needs to be carried out in this area before any firm conclusions can be reached on the damaging effects of short-term use of ecstasy."

The research is published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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 ON THIS STORY
Psychiatrist Dr Barbara Sahakian
"These people were really early stage users"
See also:

22 May 02 | UK Politics
17 Apr 02 | Health
21 May 02 | E-F
18 Dec 00 | Health
14 May 00 | Health
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