Ecstasy link to damage of the brain 'misleading' the public

Research claiming to prove that ecstasy damages the brain is fundamentally flawed and has misled politicians and the public, independent scientists say today.

Research claiming to prove that ecstasy damages the brain is fundamentally flawed and has misled politicians and the public, independent scientists say today.

An inquiry by New Scientist magazine concluded that many of the findings published in respected journals that purported to show long or short-term damage could not be trusted. It puts this down to two principal reasons: huge variations in experimental results and the fact that scientific journals are unwilling to publish "null" results in which research shows no difference between ecstasy users and non-users.

At the centre of the controversy are brain scans published in 1998 apparently showing that ecstasy destroys nerve cells involved in the production and transport of serotonin, a vital brain chemical involved in memory, sleep, sex, appetite and, primarily, mood. The scans used radioactive tagging to highlight the number of those nerve cells: those for non-users showed large "bright" regions but those of ecstasy users showed fewer. The pictures were used in anti-drugs advertising, and research findings used to underpin stiffer penalties for ecstasy use.

In an accompanying editorial today, the magazine says: "Our investigation suggests the experiments are so irretrievably flawed that the scientific community risks haemorrhaging credibility if it continues to let them inform public policy."

Two independent experts told New Scientist there was a key flaw – the way brains reacted to this kind of scan, known as PET, varied enormously with or without ecstasy. Some "healthy" brains glowed up to 40 times brighter than others, and even a number of ecstasy users' brains outshone ecstasy-free brains by factors of 10 or more.

Stephen Kish, a neuropathologist at the Centre for Addiction and Health, Toronto, told the magazine: "There are no holes in the brains of ecstasy users. And if anyone wants a straightforward answer to whether ecstasy causes any brain damage, it's impossible to get one from these papers."

Similar uncertainty surrounds evidence that ecstasy impairs mental performance, according to New Scientist. In the majority of tests of mental agility, ecstasy users performed as well as non-users.

Andrew Parrott, a psychologist at the University of East London, found that ecstasy users outperformed non-users in tests requiring them to rotate complex shapes in their mind's eye.

Ecstasy users did perform worse when learning new verbal information. But according to Mr Parrott, their performance lay well within the normal range.

The findings will not change government policy. A Home Office spokesman said: "We know that ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably, and therefore there are no plans to change its classification as a Class A drug."

Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

    Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ACCA/CIMA - St Albans, Hertfordshire

    £55000 - £58000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

    Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - Londo...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness