Santa Cruz, Calif. — The journal Addiction has published online the results of a neuroscience study finding no evidence of impaired cognitive performance in users of Ecstasy, the street name for the chemical known as MDMA.
The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, improves on earlier studies in several ways. It used subjects who used few or no other drugs or alcohol, compared those subjects to others from the same all-night dance community who had not used Ecstasy, performed complete psychiatric assessments, and utilized hair analysis and other drug testing procedures.
Since previous studies of the neurocognitive effects of Ecstasy did not address these issues, their reports of damage to memory, strategic planning, and other cognitive tasks may have been due to confounded study design rather than to Ecstasy itself.
The study was funded for five years by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and was based on pilot data collected with the assistance of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
The concept for this research was suggested by Ben Stokes, PhD, now a postdoctoral astrophysicist at the University of Utah. Stokes wrote to MAPS concerned that the absence of subjects who had taken Ecstasy but not other drugs was a critical methodological flaw in studies of the effects of Ecstasy on neurocognition. Stokes proposed that MAPS conduct a study in a Utah population whose drug use had been almost exclusively limited to Ecstasy.
Dr. John H. Halpern, Director of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry in the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse at McLean Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was the lead investigator for the study. Dr. Halpern had previously published the results of research finding no association between neurocognitive performance and religious peyote use in members of the Native American Church.
MAPS achieved an impressive leveraging of funds for the research, transforming its own initial contribution of $15,000 into a $1.8 million grant from NIDA independently awarded to the research team at McLean Hospital. This effective use of resources to catalyze methodologically rigorous research confirms MAPS' position as a leader in the investigation of the risks and benefits of MDMA.
MAPS is currently sponsoring several clinical studies of MDMA for use in controlled therapeutic settings. Dr. Halpern's study provides further evidence for the absence of an association between MDMA and impaired cognitive performance, which should encourage further research into the safety and effectiveness of MDMA in human subjects.