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Ecstasy and loud music are a bad mix

From New Scientist Print Edition
 16 February 2006

PARTYGOERS who take the recreational drug ecstasy may face a greater risk of long-term brain damage if they bombard themselves with loud music all night long.

The warning follows experiments in rats that were simultaneously exposed to loud noise and MDMA, aka ecstasy. The noise both intensified and prolonged the effects of the drug on the animals' brains.

Michelangelo Iannone of Italy's Institute of Neurological Science in Catanzaro and his colleagues gave rats varying doses of MDMA while bombarding them with white noise for 3 hours at the maximum volume permitted in Italian nightclubs.

Those given the highest dose of ecstasy, equivalent to the average amount taken by a partygoer on a night out, experienced a slump in electrical power of the cerebral cortex for up to five days after the noise was switched off. Previous studies suggest that such loss of power is related to brain hyperactivity and can ultimately lead to depression.

Rats on high doses that were not exposed to noise, and those exposed to noise but given lower doses of MDMA, experienced equally large slumps in brain power, but these only lasted for about one day (BMC Neuroscience, DOI :10.1186/1471-2202-7-13).

Since the experiments were in rats, it is hard to work out what the results mean for humans, but they do suggest that we need to know more about how ecstasy users are affected by their environment. "The most important finding is that the effects of MDMA can be strengthened by common environmental factors, such as noise in discotheques," says Iannone.

His findings echo previous research by Jenny Morton of the University of Cambridge, who discovered that a combination of methamphetamine (or speed) and loud, pulsing music is much more damaging to mice than either stimulus alone (New Scientist, 3 November 2001, p 17). White noise had no effect on the mice in her experiments. "If Iannone's team had used loud, pulsing noise, their effects would probably have been even stronger," she says.

She agrees that more research into the combined effect of music and drugs on humans is needed. "It would be tragic to find that taking ecstasy in clubs as a teenager significantly increased the risk of mental illness in later life," she says.

Andy Parrott at the University of Wales in Swansea, UK, has carried out an analysis of the combined effects of ecstasy and environmental factors, which is expected to be published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in April. "From the long-term health perspective, dances and raves may well be the worst venues in which to take MDMA," he says. "Dancing, heat and noise may all boost the acute effects of MDMA, but these same factors will also exacerbate the long-term adverse effects."

From issue 2539 of New Scientist magazine, 16 February 2006, page 11