Using the recreational drug Ecstasy reduces the amount of a brain chemical that controls mood, pain perception, sleep, appetite and emotions, researchers say. The chemical is called serotonin.

In the study, published in the journal Neurology, the scientists report how they compared the brain of a 26-year-old man who died of a drug overdose to those of 11 individuals who did not abuse drugs. The man had used Ecstasy for nine years and cocaine and heroin in the final months of his life. "The levels of serotonin and another chemical associated with serotonin were 50 to 80 percent lower in the brain of the Ecstasy user," said study author Stephen Kish of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada.

"This is the first study to show that this drug can deplete the level of serotonin in humans." Ecstasy, known chemically as methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is structurally related to the hallucinogen mescaline and the stimulant amphetamine. MDMA causes& neurons, or nerve cells, to release serotonin.

  • Drug Facts
  • Methadone mimics many of the effects of opiates such as heroin.
  • Since about 1990, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) has been abused in the U.S. for its euphoric, sedative, and anabolic (body building) effects. It is a central nervous system depressant that was widely available over-the-counter in health food stores during the 1980s and until 1992.
  • Crystal meth effects are similar to those of cocaine but with more power and intensity.
  • Research in humans suggests that chronic ecstasy use can lead to changes in brain function, affecting cognitive tasks and memory. Ecstasy can also lead to symptoms of depression several days after its use.
  • Research suggests that people who used ecstasy at least 25 times had lowered serotonin levels for as long as a year after quitting.