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Ecstasy Not Bad For Your Brain, Actually

Scratch what you've heard about ecstasy being bad for the brain. Tests that found nonusers more mentally competent than users are now being called "flawed," according to a press release today from the science journal Addiction, which says "the experiments overstated the cognitive differences" between people who have and have not taken the pill. A study meant to correct the mistakes of the first one, funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), published in Addiction, found that "ecstasy use did not decrease mental ability." And the '90s comeback continues.

"Researchers have known for a long time that earlier studies of ecstasy use had problems that later studies should try to correct," said the study's author John Halpern. The mistakes were as follows:

1. "Rave" participants were used in the original study and were "repeatedly exposed to sleep and fluid deprivation from all-night dancing -- factors that themselves can produce long-lasting cognitive effects."

2. This time they made sure none of the subjects were high during testing.

3. Regular users of other drugs were kept out of the new study.

4. This time they took into account "cognitive impairment" a subject might have had before they ever tried ecstasy.

These seem like important factors! Lo and behold, they were:

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.

That said, the drug is still risky because "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." The dirty, cheap stuff is prevalent because no one is holding the drug up to any standards and that may very well be dangerous. But it's not necessarily making anyone stupider, so party on, if you dare.

New study finds no cognitive impairment among ecstasy users [Addiction]

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jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com

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@joecoscarelli

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