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Club Drug Research

Ecstasy Causes Long-Term Memory Damage

A study published in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry indicates the use of ecstasy causes long-term damage to memory function.

Previous research determined that ecstasy caused temporary injury to brain cells, but after examining memory tests and brain scans of 22 ecstasy users,researchers from the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam found long-term memory deficiencies and changes in certain brain cells.

The most striking finding in study participants was the damage to the cortical neurons which are linked to memory function. These brain cells suffered a decreased density of receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin which transports messages between cells and affects mood.

Scans and memory tests performed on former ecstasy users found that the damage may be irreversible. "We identified that ecstasy use is associated not only with short-term consequences on memory but with long-term consequences as well," said study author Liesbeth Reneman.This summary is reprinted with permission from Join Together.

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Use of Date Rape Drug, GHB, Rises (2002)

GHB,the highly addictive "date rape" drug outlawed by Congress in 2000, is becoming increasingly popular on college campuses and at raves despite its propensity to trigger potentially fatal comas.

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate)does not provide users with a feeling of euphoria, although some users report a dazed reaction similar to heavy alcohol intoxication. The slightly bitter liquid puts users into a dreamy stupor, or worse, a coma that can kill them.

"Something that puts you into a coma is not something (most people) voluntarily do," says Alan Leshner, a former executive director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Normal people don't say, 'I'm looking forward to my next coma.'"

Most education efforts related to GHB have dealt with its use as a date rape drug, warning women about predators who might spike their drinks, but with the rise in hospital admissions related to GHB use, law enforcement officials and preventionists are placing more emphasis on the dangers of GHB. Emergency room admissions involving GHB quadrupled nationwide from 1998 to 2000, when 4,969 cases were reported according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2000, there were 2,482 emergency room visits for GHB-related overdoses compared with 1,742 ecstasy-involved cases.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 73 people have died from taking GHB since 1995; there were 27 ecstasy-related deaths between 1994 and 1998.

In the early 1990's, GHB was legally sold in health food stores and gyms as a "natural" formula to promote sleep, slow the aging process, and build muscle. Although there was little scientific data to support these claims, the drug quickly became popular among some bodybuilders.The first overdoses occurred among muscle men in San Francisco and Miami, signaling authorities that GHB could be highly dangerous.

A form of GHB occurs naturally in the body, doctors say. The brain uses minute quantities of it to shut off one function so that another one can begin. Many GHB users incorrectly assume that larger amounts of GHB are harmless and can be beneficial, says Leshner. "But," he says,"the brain's delicate chemical balance is upset easily and too much GHB can depress breathing and nervous system functions to the point that users are unable to roll over in their sleep." Those who die after taking GHB usually "fall on their faces and smother, or they aspirate (on their own vomit) into their lungs and suffocate," Leshner states.

GHB has also proved to be highly addictive, and treatment centers across the nation are reporting jumps in GHB-related admissions. In 1999, the Hazelden Foundation facilities in Center City,Minn. and Chicago treated five people who had used GHB. In 2000, they treated 39 individuals according to Carol Falkowski, director of research communications at Hazelden.

Doctors are still trying to establish protocols to treat GHB addiction and ease the excruciating withdrawal that addicts face. Those under treatment for addiction usually become anxious and cannot sleep. Some become delirious. Treatment centers report that addicts trying to withdraw from GHB often attempt suicide.

Tyler Johnson, 27, of Beebe, Aek., shot himself in the head in July 2000, after quitting GHB cold turkey, says his father, David Johnson. Tyler had just graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a degree in criminal justice and had been accepted to law school.

He had been a bodybuilder for about 10 years in 1999 when he began taking a supplement made from 1,4 butanediol, which converted to GHB in the body. Eventually, Tyler became addicted and took a dose every four hours. He went through an $80 bottle every few days, his father says. Tyler continued taking the supplement even after March 13, 2000,when the U.S. government banned sales of GHB supplements.

"It was marketed as a healthy thing, all natural," David Johnson says. "That misinformation cost Tyler his life." Johnson cannot forget the image of Tyler struggling to get off GHB. "It's a terrible ordeal," Johnson says. "Hallucinations, heart palpitations. The night before he shot himself, I was with him from 7p.m. until about 3a.m.,researching GHB on the Internet. He was uncomfortable and twitchy, but I didn't realize it was that serious. Three hours later, he put the gun in his mouth."

(Adapted from "Use of Date Rape Drug Surges" by Donna Leinwand, USA Today, and Higher Education AOD Prevention News Digest V1)

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