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Mood, cognition and serotonin transporter availability in current and former ecstasy (MDMA) users

R Thomasius, K Petersen, R Buchert, B Andresen, P Zapletalova, L Wartberg, B Nebeling, A Schmoldt
Psychopharmacology 2003, 167 (1): 85-96
12632248

RATIONALE: Chronic recreational ecstasy (MDMA) use has often been reported to be associated with psychopathology, memory impairments and serotonergic alterations. However, the findings have not been consistent.

OBJECTIVES: To attempt to replicate these findings, to investigate whether such alterations would be reversible and whether they could be predicted by parameters of previous drug use.

METHODS: In a cross-sectional design, 30 current and 31 ex-ecstasy users with ecstasy abstinence of at least 5 months, and 29 polydrug and 30 drug-naive controls were compared on measures of psychopathology, cognitive performance and serotonin transporter availability.

RESULTS: The groups did not differ significantly in age, gender distribution, education level and premorbid intelligence. The ecstasy groups did not differ significantly from polydrug controls on most of the relevant parameters of concomitant illegal drug use. Reported drug use was confirmed by hair and urine analyses. All three groups of drug users exhibited significantly elevated psychopathology compared with drug-naive controls. Only ex-ecstasy users were significantly impaired on verbal recall. Current ecstasy users showed significantly reduced distribution volume ratios of serotonin transporter availability in the mesencephalon and caudate nucleus. Regression analyses indicated that psychopathology and serotonergic alterations were best predicted by the number of ecstasy tablets taken on a typical event.

CONCLUSION: The results indicate that verbal memory impairments were possibly aggravated after prolonged ecstasy abstinence while there was tentative evidence of serotonergic recovery. On the other hand, self-reported elevated psychopathology appeared to be associated with polydrug use in general and not specifically with ecstasy use.

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