Researchers from LJMU and the University of Liverpool have conducted a study examining the effect ecstasy has on different parts of the brain.
LJMU's Dr Cathy Montgomery, of the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, and researchers from the University of Liverpool, conducted an analysis of seven independent studies that used molecular imaging to examine the neuropsychological effect of ecstasy on people regularly using the drug.
A number of studies have compared ecstasy users to control groups on various measures of neuropsychological function in order to determine whether ecstasy use results in lasting cognitive deficits. It is common, however, for ecstasy users to use other drugs alongside the substance, and therefore the Liverpool team aimed to discover whether this had any bearing on the impact of the drug.
The nerve pathway that is predominantly affected by ecstasy is called the serotonin pathway. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized, stored, and released by specific neurons in this pathway. It is involved in the regulation of several processes within the brain, including mood, emotions, aggression, sleep, appetite, anxiety, memory, and perceptions.
The researchers found that ecstasy users showed significant reductions in the way serotonin is transported in the brain, which can have a particular impact on regulating appropriate emotional reactions to situations.
Dr Montgomery said: "We analysed the available data looking at the activity of a particular component of the serotonin neuron, the transporter (SERT). Our analysis shows that there are reductions in SERT density in users of MDMA (ecstasy). Such reductions could be responsible for the changes in memory and mood following MDMA use, and our future research will focus on investigating this".
The paper, entitled ‘Meta-analysis of molecular imaging of serotonin transporters in ecstasy/polydrug users’, has been published in the journal of NeuroScience and Biobehavioral Reviews.