Ecstasy, a recreational drug known for its popularity at dance clubs and raves, could cause memory impairment with just casual use, according to a new study.
Researchers at Germany's University of Cologne believe the drug, also known as MDMA, could cause degeneration in the brain's hippocampus, which is responsible for immediate and short-term memory. Hippocampus degeneration is often associated with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Ecstasy acts as a stimulant that causes euphoria for about 3-5 hours. The drug has grown in popularity in recent years, but clinical trials conducted earlier this year have explored the drug as a potential treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Self-professed "new users of ecstasy"—subjects who refrained from any other drugs besides ecstasy, marijuana and alcohol—were studied over the course of a year. The study found memory impairments in people who used the drug just 10 times over the course of 12 months.
"Given the relatively small amounts of MDMA that were used and the relatively short time period of one year, we were surprised by these specific effects," Daniel Wagner, the study's lead researcher, wrote in an E-mail.
Wagner said it was unclear whether the "special occasion" use of the drug—once or twice a year—could cause similar effects, but that he's planning future research to answer that question. Researchers also said marijuana and alcohol were allowed in the study because it's too difficult to find people who solely use ecstasy.
Wagner says that the research "may raise concerns in regard to MDMA use, even in recreational amounts over a relatively short time period."
He says the drug could potentially alter users' social behavior and affect their long-term mental state, so Wagner "[doesn't] think ecstasy should be more penalized," and that further research is needed to determine if the drug can be used to treat certain diseases.
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.