The Basics of Neurotoxicity

The Role of Serotonin           The Role of Dopamine           Prevention

        The term neurotoxicity describes how an external substance can have harmful interactions with the nervous system. In terms of MDMA, neurotoxicity refers to the way in which MDMA causes harm to the brain. This is a complex process and has dominated much of the research produced in this are. The basic argument about the neurotoxicity of MDMA revolves around whether or not it will specifically damage the terminal buttons of an axon which produces serotonin. For the past couple of years there has been widespread media coverage of MDMA that has focused primarily on the studies which support the hypothesis of permanent damage to serotonergic neurons. This stance only presents part of the empirical evidence that researchers have found, thus the public is denied a significant amount of information which could allow it to form an informed opinion. The following pages discussing neurotoxicity are an attemt to present the research regarding MDMA in an unbiased manner, giving you the knowledge that will allow you to form an opinion based upon both the positive and negative effects of MDMA.

       When reading the section about neurotoxicity, you should be especially mindful of three aspects: 1) frequency of MDMA use, 2) quantity of MDMA ingested, and 3)the personal (condition of body and mind) and environmental conditions under which the drug is taken. These three variables appear to have the most influence over the amount, if any, of toxic effects which MDMA will have on the body. If someone frequently consumes high doses of MDMA in a harsh environment then the probability of MDMA toxicity will be increased. If, however, use is infrequent, dosage is low, and the environment is unthreatening, then the neurotoxic effects may not be seen at all. Ignored, unfortunately, in this conceptually simple model, are the factors which influence MDMA toxicity that lie outside of scientific understanding. These unknown factors make every experience with MDMA unique, for better or for worse, so users should always be safe and be aware of the external environment, the internal environment and, most importantly, what goes into the body.

        The image to the right is from the NIDA homepage, which can be accessed by clicking on the image. It is produced using a PET scan and depicts the effects of MDMA using two different brains. The brain on the left has a large percentage of lavender, which represents a high density of serotonin transporters. The one on the right has a lot of dark purple, which represents a low serotonin transporter density. The brain on the left is from a person who does not use MDMA and the brain on the right is from a person who has used Ecstasy (the street drug) about 70 times in the span of 1.5 years. For this photo the user had not used Ecstasy for three weeks prior. From this data it is possible to draw two very distinct conclusions, both of which are heavily debated. On the one hand, one could say that MDMA will clearly cause brain damage. This conclusion is completely viable because serotonin transporters carry serotonin and if they are less dense then there is probably not much serotonin travelling in the depleated regions. On the other hand, one could argue that because the user had taken the street drug Ecstasy, the data is untrustworthy due to the other drugs that ecstasy often contains. There are a whole slew of other contentions pertaining to studies like this one: two DIFFERENT brains could have two different natures, could be an adaptation of serotonin transporters, and it could be that the user just took too much ecstasy. These issues will be discussed later on. But before moving on it is best to first understand the current theories of how MDMA works in the body.




Prevention of Neurotoxicity


Main Table of Contents