Hair samples reveal effects of Ecstasy use

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Ecstasy, also known as methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), is a highly addictive drug that acts as a stimulant and causes hallucination. Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, Australia studied the health effects of light and heavy users of ecstasy, by looking at cortisol levels found in hair. They found that hair samples taken from ecstasy users can indicate high stress levels associated with using ecstasy, even months after taking the drug.

Lead researcher, Luke Downey, shared that, “Cortisol is a stress hormone that we all produce in our bodies and interestingly, it is deposited in our hair. Looking at cortisol in hair is a way for us to see how stressed we’ve been in the past.” Currently, we could test saliva for cortisol levels, but saliva samples need to be taken at the exact moment of being stressed. On the contrary, cortisol is deposited in the growing hair at the time of stress, and the hair retains that cortisol for months. Hence, hair samples allow retrospective measuring of stress levels during the use of ecstasy over a period of time.

Downey explained that, “Hair grows one centimetre per month. We took three centimetres of hair from the scalp of non-ecstasy users, light ecstasy users, and heavy ecstasy users to assess the level of stress on the bodies over a three month period.” Researchers discovered that light ecstasy users had cortisol levels that were 1.5 times that of non-ecstasy users. Heavy ecstasy users had cortisol levels that were four times higher than light ecstasy users, which indicated significantly increased stress levels.

In addition, ecstasy users had poorer performance in word recall tests and had significantly more retrospective and prospective memory problems. However, there was no correlation between the levels of ecstasy use with cortisol levels detected in hair samples. Downey added that, “Interestingly, no significant relationship between memory deficits and levels of stress merged. This increased experience of stress appears not to be the mechanism that produces the memory deficit.”

The findings are published in Human Psychopharmacology.

Source: Science Alert