Friday, February 6, 2009

Ecstasy Makes Holes in the Brain

The Legend:  Use of Ecstasy, even in small amounts, will leave permanent holes in your brain.

Status:  False


False?  No way! I've seen the pictures! There is photographic proof that this is true.  

Or is there?  You've seen pictures, but were they really pictures of a brain damaged by ecstasy? Maybe they were interesting pictures that showed areas of inactivity that simply looked like physical holes, which encouraged people to draw the erroneous, inaccurate and false conclusion that ecstasy had caused those "holes."

Most of us have seen the "Plain Brain/Brain on Ecstasy" photos. It was a drug prevention campaign designed by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). The photo was a split image; on the left was a healthy looking intact brain, on the right was a smaller brain that appeared to have holes in it. This campaign used these photos to imply that users had shrunken brains with holes in them as a result of their ecstasy use.  NIDA promoted these "holes in the brain" photos on postcards, bookmarks and other educational materials.

These now legendary photos were taken by a NIDA funded scientist, Dr. George Ricaurte, at John's Hopkins University. Dr. Ricaurte himself says that the photos are of poor quality and that he had nothing to say about their use, that this was strictly a NIDA project. That would be the politically correct answer from a researcher who has already been found to have falsified data and research results. NIDA was eventually pressured by the scientific community to discontinue this misleading ad campaign.

All the current research being published on the neurotoxicity of ecstasy recognizes that it is nearly impossible to attribute the brain changes they might be observing to the use of a single drug, ecstasy. That's because people who use ecstasy might also use alcohol and other drugs, which themselves might be neurotoxic, (Gouzoulis-Mayfran & Daumann, 2006).

As for ecstasy causing holes in your brain, the most consistent research findings are showing cognitive, memory and mood changes with heavy ecstasy use, but no physical brain damage, (Gouzoulis-Mayfrink & Daumann, 2006; Morton, 2005).  To kill brain cells in a large enough quantity for it to show up on a brain scan you would have to use the legal drug, alcohol.