Ecstasy Does Not Wreck the Mind, Study Finds

There is no evidence that ecstasy causes brain damage, according to one of the largest studies into the effects of the drug.

Too many previous studies made over-arching conclusions from insufficient data, say the scientists responsible for the research, and the drug’s dangers have been greatly exaggerated.

The finding will shock campaigners who have claimed ecstasy poses a real risk of triggering brain damage. They have argued that it can induce memory loss, decrease cognitive performance and has long-lasting effects on behaviour.

But experts who have argued that the drug is relatively safe welcomed the new paper. “I always assumed that, when properly designed studies were carried out, we would find ecstasy does not cause brain damage,” said Professor David Nutt, who was fired as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by Alan Johnson, then home secretary, for publicly stating alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than ecstasy.

The study was carried out by a team led by Professor John Halpern of Harvard Medical School and published in the journal Addiction last week. Funded by a $1.8m grant from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, it was launched specifically to avoid methodological drawbacks that have bedevilled previous attempts to pinpoint whether or not ecstasy users suffer brain damage.

Ecstasy – or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA – came into widespread use in the 1980s when taking it was linked to raves and the playing of dance music. Its symptoms include euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others and diminished anxiety and depression. In the US alone, more than 12 million have taken it.

But the taking of ecstasy has also been linked to damage to the central nervous system and research in recent years has suggested that long-term changes to emotional states and behaviour have been triggered by consumption of the drug. Possession of it has been made an offence in most western nations.

However, Halpern was sharply critical of the quality of the research that had linked ecstasy to brain damage. “Too many studies have been carried out on small populations, while overarching conclusions have been drawn from them,” he said. For a start, some previous research has studied users who were taken from a culture dominated by all-night dancing, which thus exposed these individuals to sleep and fluid deprivation – factors that are themselves known to produce long-lasting cognitive effects. Non-users were not selected from those from a similar background, which therefore skewed results. In addition, past studies have not taken sufficient account of the fact that ecstasy users take other drugs or alcohol that could affect cognition or that they may have suffered intellectual impairment before they started taking ecstasy. In Halpern’s study only ecstasy users who took no other drugs and who had suffered no previous impairment were selected.

The resulting experiment whittled down 1,500 potential participants to 52 selected users, whose cognitive abilities matched those of a group of 59 non-users. “We even took hair samples of participants to test whether they were telling the truth about their drug and alcohol habits,” said Halpern. “Essentially we compared one group of people who danced and raved and took ecstasy with a similar group of individuals who danced and raved but who did not take ecstasy. When we did that, we found that there was no difference in their cognitive abilities.” In other words, previous studies highlighted problems triggered by other factors, such as use of other drugs or drink, or sleep deprivation.

But the drug still posed risks, he said. “Ecstasy consumption is dangerous because illegally made pills often contain contaminants that can have harmful side-effects.”


1912 First synthesis of MDMA by a German chemist, Anton Kollisch, who worked for the giant Merck company.

1970 The drug is first detected in tablets seized on the streets of Chicago.

1977 UK makes MDMA a Class A drug.

1984 Term ‘ecstasy’ coined in California.

1985 MDMA becomes a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the US. In the UK the street price is £25.

Mid1980s Raves become increasingly popular, spreading out from the centres of London and Manchester

1988-89 Raves, electronic dance music and ecstasy lead to a second “summer of love”. First recorded ecstasy-related death in UK.

1995 Essex schoolgirl Leah Betts, 18, dies after taking ecstasy.2000 British Crime Survey finds the proportion of 16-29 -year-olds who have taken ecstasy is 12%.

2003 6,230 people found guilty, cautioned or fined for ecstasy-related offences

2005 In a survey of 500 Edinburgh students, 36% said they had taken ecstasy. Of those, 75% considered ecstasy a “positive force”.

2011 The street price is now between £3 and £8.



  1. Anonymous on

    Hmmm, should I believe claptrap from anonymous internet users or the results of a peer reviewed scientific paper. It would be nice if one day you guys could stop filling up the internet with your opinions.

  2. Krash-Kaze on

    Horse shit! Coming straight from a “raver”, I used combinations of drugs every weekend for 5 years. Marijuana, MDMA, LSD, COCAINE & K. Some weekends we did it all in a night. Other weekends we focused on one drug, MDMA was the more readily available. You can not tell me that MDMA does not do damage to cognitive abilities. Yes, drugs do help open your mind to better abstract thinking. But the next day your having issues remembering where the fuck your clothes are and why your mouth tastes like a fuzzy carpet? Recalling some of those memories from the “trip” is goddam impossible! Plus if your doing caps/tab/pills your not getting pure MDMA its more fillers, harder drugs (meth, heroin, pcp) and those have even harder effects on cognitive and emotional faculties. So do your f***ing research and maybe do some yourself to see the actual effects before you put something on the internet you half-wit pharmacology drop-out. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine) there’s a start. Do some actual research.

  3. Anonymous on

    don’t get me wrong I like mdma. It’s fun times but if you have ever met anyone who cooks AND uses it you will know it makes you slow. People who use extacy lots become something known as Etarded but users dont know what all they are getting in each tab. MDMA cooks on the other hand know what they are cooking and know that it is pure and every person I have met who makes MDMA and uses it is “fried”. I wouldn’t say that they are stupid but I would say that they are slow.

  4. Anonymous on

    You know how many times i’ve had people try telling me that they’ve had weed laced with LSD. Well you dont smoke it, putting coke in E is pointless, if they are using amounts the size of a pill to begin with it wouldnt really have much if any effect, baking soda would be just as effective. It’s mostly just research chemicals with similar lengths of time to MDMA these days.

  5. Anonymous on

    Gotta laugh when you say Ecstasy pills contain cocaine. Ingesting cocaine orally can be fatal, nevermind the fact that using cocaine as a cutting agent is like using jetfuel in a lawnmower, huge cost and infact wouldnt work. Usually cut with meth or ephederine, or even caffeine, sometimes DXM(think nyquil). LSD? haha. If you are getting intense hallucinations and that euphoric vibe from a “bean” chances are its actually MDA, not MDMA, could be BZP. MDMA by itself will not bind so any press tablet will contain mdma and a pressing agent, some of them no doubt more dangerous than mdma. Fact being that illicit “beans” sold as ecstasy are much like bathtub gin sold during prohibition. Much like gin sold during prohibition, ecstacy too is dangerous, thanks to prohibition. Vaults of Erowid is a great source for information.

  6. Anonymous on

    Ok pure MDMA doesn’t cause long term effects but MDMA or Molly is not an ecstasy pill or bean. An ecstasy pill or “bean” now a days is a mixture of MDMA and many other drugs and poisons- such as cocaine, meth, pcp, LSD, etc.. So do your research on beans before taking them