Drug Policy

NIDA-Funded Study Finds No Link Between MDMA and Cognitive Impairment

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A new government-funded study finds, contrary to earlier research, that MDMA use is not associated with cognitive impairment. The study, reported yesterday in the journal Addiction, sought to address the weaknesses in comparisons that have been widely cited as evidence of brain damage caused by MDMA (a.k.a. Ecstasy):

The researchers fixed four problems in earlier research on ecstasy.  First, the non-users in the experiment were members of the "rave" subculture and thus repeatedly exposed to sleep and fluid deprivation from all-night dancing—factors that themselves can produce long-lasting cognitive effects. 

Second, participants were screened for drug and alcohol use on the day of cognitive testing, to make sure all participants were tested while "clean."

Third, the study chose ecstasy users who did not habitually use other drugs that might themselves contribute to cognitive impairment. 

Finally, the experiment corrected for the possibility that any cognitive impairment shown by ecstasy users might have been in place before they started using the drug.  

The resulting experiment whittled 1500 potential participants down to 52 carefully chosen ecstasy users, whose cognitive function was compared against 59 closely-matched non-users, with tests administered at several stages to make sure participants were telling the truth about their drug and alcohol use. 

The researchers, led by John Halpern of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry, obtained a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to clarify whether the differences in performance found in earlier studies were due to MDMA's effects. Their conclusion:

We found little evidence of decreased cognitive performance in ecstasy users, save for poorer strategic self-regulation, possibly reflecting increased impulsivity. However, this finding might have reflected a pre-morbid attribute of ecstasy users, rather than a residual neurotoxic effect of the drug.

Halpern seems keen to put a NIDA-friendly spin on these reassuring results:

Ecstasy consumption is dangerous:  illegally-made pills can contain harmful contaminants, there are no warning labels, there is no medical supervision, and in rare cases people are physically harmed and even die from overdosing. It is important for drug-abuse information to be accurate, and we hope our report will help upgrade public health messages. But while we found no ominous, concerning risks to cognitive performance, that is quite different from concluding that ecstasy use is "risk-free."

The press release does not mention that all the risks Halpern cites are either created or exacerbated by prohibition, which makes drug quality unreliable, pushes use underground, and impedes the dissemination of reliable guidelines for responsible use. I made those points in connection with anti-rave legislation in a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece.

That same year Ron Bailey examined the drug war's corrupting impact on MDMA research. In a 2002 Reason article, I explored the link between Ecstasy and sex. Last year I analyzed a retro Ecstasy scare story in the Los Angeles Times.

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  1. ECSTASY KILLED MY DOG

    You just shot my dog with a shotgun!

    I WAS ON ECSTASY

    -the end-

    1. THE DOG THAT BARKED

      The COMMANDER shot dog, part of the Dog Missile Warrior Cadre of the American-Israeli Military Industrial Complex as envisioned in the Grand-Walking Shooting Dog Championship Strategy, of Full Spectrum Totalitarian Canine Dominancy in the New World Order, as predicted by Madame Ruby.

  2. I don’t really read that as spin… at least not too heavy.

    While Ecstasy remains prohibited, using it will always have some risk. I think he was fairly moderate – he even uses the term ‘rare’.

  3. Well, this settles what I’ll be doing this weekend, then.

    1. You’re exploring the link between Ecstasy and sex? 😉

      1. Nope, did that two weekends ago. This weekend will just be about the “emotional” connection. Just glad to have it confirmed that I’m not screwing up my brain.

  4. Of course Ecstasy should be legal. That said, the NIDA’s disclaimers are more than spin. For some reason, a lot of people who come in contact with street E end up losing their shit. That’s a real outcome. I suppose knowing that pure MDMA wasn’t the culprit would prove to be a cold comfort for the newly-retarded people

    Street Drugs are dangerous as fuck. They should be legal, and they’d be safer if they were, but to tell kids that they’re safe now is to send an inaccurate message.

    1. Yeah, I met a girl recently who had a stroke after taking E.
      She has a hard time talking, which is a shame cause it makes her sound like she’s retarded and she really isn’t.

      1. Tell her to stay away from peanuts!
        Just one can kill.

  5. Threadjack:

    Obama in an attempt to look “business friendly” has secret meeting with select tech business leaders.

    It’s official, Obama is beginning to seriously get on my nerves:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..02655.html

    1. You’re an idiot.

      Obama just allowed full one-year acceleration of depreciation on capital investments – very bullish.

      S&P 500 up 80% under Obama – the C-level execs love him – as bull investors do.

      You make me forget about my X-love – you wretched GOP dickhead.

      1. Classic shrike. He brings the Herp N Derp like no other…

        1. Bully!

      2. And he’s complying with Freedom of Information Act Reqeusts! Win!

    2. Obama meet Shrike. Public employee loser meet day trader loser. He is your biggest fan. Believes your shit can be converted to gold. [I advise you to have the Secret Service keep an eye on him. If he ever catches on that you are the shittiest president in terms of economic performance since FDR who knows what he might do).

  6. MDMA, if marketed by Merck as a PTSD drug – would be a $5 billion drug.

    Fuck the FDA.

    1. Round two of agreeing with shrike!

    2. MDMA, if marketed by Merck as a PTSD drug – would be a $5 billion drug.

      Not if it had to compete with a generic otc MDA/MDMA you statist fuck!

      1. Patents are explicitly and textually called for in the Constitution, Art. I, Section 8, Clause 8

        Fucker!

        *smiles*

        1. This is a 100 year old drug, not
          Mickey Mouse…

          3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), also known as tenamfetamine (INN), is a psychedelic, stimulant, and empathogen-entactogen of the phenethylamine and amphetamine chemical classes. It is mainly used as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and a tool in use to supplement various types of practices for transcendence, including in meditation, psychonautics, and as an agent in psychedelic psychotherapy. It was first synthesized by G. Mannish and W. Jacobson in 1910. There are about 20 different synthetic routes described in the literature for its preparation.

          MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 by Merck chemist Anton K?llisch. At the time, Merck was interested in developing substances that stopped abnormal bleeding. Merck wanted to evade an existing patent, held by Bayer, for one such compound: hydrastinine. At the behest of his superiors Walther Beckh and Otto Wolfes, K?llisch developed a preparation of a hydrastinine analogue, methylhydrastinine. MDMA was an intermediate compound in the synthesis of methylhydrastinine, and Merck was not interested in its properties at the time.[9] On 24 December 1912 Merck filed two patent applications that described the synthesis of MDMA[10] and its subsequent conversion to methylhydrastinine.[11]

          To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

          Does your mother know you’re queer?
          FAG!!1!

          *Gloats*

          1. Hey, with that product-specific info, you win!

            And what’s with that perpetual term for copyright?

    3. Agreed. It could have positive uses, and probably would be safer if used under a doctor’s supervision.

      1. That seems kinda gay*, well unless it is a doctor of the opposite sex!

        *nttawwt

    4. shrike|2.17.11 @ 6:14PM|#
      MDMA, if marketed by Merck as a PTSD drug – would be a $5 billion drug.

      Fuck the FDA.

      Fuck Obama’s “Business Friendly” FDA.

  7. Ecstasy consumption is dangerous: illegally-made pills can contain harmful contaminants, there are no warning labels, there is no medical supervision, and in rare cases people are physically harmed and even die from overdosing.

    Gee, it sure is a good thing that it’s illegal and people can’t purchase pharmaceutical-grade MDMA that is free of contaminants. I mean, imagine the danger to people’s health.

  8. “WHAT? XTASCY DOESN’T WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SHITTY MUSIC!”

    1. + (deadmau)5

    2. + Britney dubstep

    3. Techno that you can enjoy without Ecstasy?

      That’d be Major Lazer

    1. I want to go to a lightswitch rave.

      1. As long as you crack it open and pour it in Homestar’s Mt. Dew when you’re done.

  9. Horse feathers. A waste of $1.8 million, if you ask me.

    MDMA — legal or not — is “risk-free”?

    I’m curious about the dosage and how many times the participants were given MDMA. The article doesn’t specify.

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