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Ecstasy side-effects take six years to show through

May 4 2006
By Sam Lister, Daily Post (UK)

THE full side-effects of using ecstasy take six years to develop, according to a new study by north-west academics.

Researchers at Edge Hill College, Ormskirk, found changes in users' mental state, such as depression, only emerged after long-term use.

Dr Philip Murphy, one of the leading scientists on the project which surveyed hundreds of ecstasy users over four years, said the study had challenged some existing views on drug taking.

He said: "It has become apparent that many regular ecstasy users engage in a tradeoff with regard to the positive and negative effects of the drug.

"For example, depression in the come-down period after use is weighed against the immediate pleasure that its use brings.

"The negative effects of using ecstasy start to take their toll almost immediately but it is not until much, much later that users will notice significant changes to their mental state.

"Only people who had used the drug for less than three years reported that the positive effects clearly outweighed the negative effects, indicating an apparent 'honeymoon period' of enjoyment. "Many users continued to take the drug because the negative consequences were not immediately apparent.

"But we were able to project that sustained use would lead to a situation eventually where users became almost immune to the positive effects of ecstasy while the negative effects on their brain reached their highest point."

Merseyside schoolgirl Siobhan Delaney died from taking ecstasy after a night out at a city centre club last year. The 18-year-old, who is thought to have drunk 10 bottles of water after taking the drug, fell into a coma and never recovered.

It is hoped the new research will help drugs workers get the message about the dangers of ecstasy use to young people.

Nick Evans, from Addaction, Liverpool's drug and alcohol treatment service for young people, said: "We educate young people about the long-term affects of drug use and research like this can help us get across that the choices they make today can affect them in the future.

"There are a lot a mis-messages about ecstasy. People often think it is harmless, when in fact it can be very dangerous.

"This adds weight to the argument."

Dr Murphy insists the latest findings could also lead to a major breakthrough in treating addicts and said the study was as much about understanding the psychology of users as it was assessing the risks.

He added: "There is much evidence to suggest a link between ecstasy use and deficits in memory and other cognitive processes. But we were interested in understanding the mind-set of the people who take ecstasy.

"Most of them are aware of the risks but chose to take the drug after balancing up how it will make them feel in the short term against the long-term damage.

"We now have a greater understanding of the mentality of ecstasy users and this can only help as we seek ways of treating addicts."

The study will be published in the May issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.