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E Makes You Forget Things & Fail To See Patterns

From the Streets of London, Malcolm Aitken

E Makes You Forget Things & Fail To See Patterns

The results of a new British study suggest the recreational drug Ecstasy impairs memory and the ability to visually discern patterns, researchers claimed yesterday.

Ecstasy users performed relatively poorly in the joint Cambridge University-University of East London study, particularly on memory-related tasks. Forty adults participated; 20 had taken an average of 170 Ecstasy tablets over four years and 20 had never taken it. All participants had used various drugs in the past including LSD, amphetamines, cocaine and cannabis.

‘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,’ says Dr Barbara Sahakian, reader in clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge.

‘These results add to a growing body of research that has demonstrated the harmful effects of Ecstasy: the drug is known to affect cognition and mood regulation, and recent evidence suggests it is a neurotoxin at certain doses,’ Dr Sahakian says.

These findings will undoubtedly be used as ammunition in the fierce on-going debate about drug liberalization in the UK. In late May a House of Commons select committee recommended reclassifying Ecstasy from Class A to a less serious Class B. The committee also recommended Cannabis was changed from Class B to Class C. Moreover, several senior police officers have called for current drug laws to be liberalised.

The study participants were tested on a series of CANTAB tasks normally used to identify cognitive problems in patients with dementia or neurological damage. The two groups performed equally in a number of tasks, but Ecstasy users showed significant impairment on several others. Most of these involved memory use, the research team says.

It’s commonly estimated half a million Brits use Ecstasy regularly, although the Observer newspaper reported earlier this year on a supposed secret Customs and Excise report suggesting it was more like two million.

One of the study’s researchers at the University of East London, Dr Andy Parrot, has said about Ecstasy: 'the more you use, the more you suffer memory problems. One in five novice users suffer memory loss, while almost three-quarters of heavy users do. Depression is another big problem; it is increased even in former moderate users,' he said.

According to a survey of 1000 clubbers undertaken by Britain’s dance culture magazine Mixmag, regular Ecstasy users are 25% more likely to suffer a mental health disorder than the rest of the population.

One in four regular Ecstasy users had potentially serious psychiatric disorders, compared to the national average of less than one in five the survey reportedly showed. Published in January, the survey was based on readers filling out questionnaires. Respondents were also twice as likely to have seen a doctor about mental health issues, with half of them concerned about depression.


- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London. He can be contacted at

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