New research shows that ecstasy, or MDMA, creates what may be permanent changes in the brain.
Ecstasy works in part by releasing oxytocin into the brain, producing those feelings of unity and connection. Over time, unfortunately, it seems to make the brain hyper-excitable, leading to less efficiency.
Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University scanned the brains of subjects who had used ecstasy and those who had never tried MDMA.
They found increased brain activation in three brain areas associated with visual processing in Ecstasy users with the highest lifetime exposure to the drug. The findings were consistent with the investigators' predictions based on results from animal models: that Ecstasy use is associated with a loss of serotonin signaling, which leads to hyper-excitability (increased activation) in the brain.
The hyper-excitability suggests a loss in brain efficiency, Cowan said, "meaning that it takes more brain area to process information or perform a task."
It's not clear just what about the drug causes these effects, but it's worth noting not only for MDMA users but also for those wondering about dosing themselves with oxytocin.