Regular ecstasy users risk depression and disease

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The Independent Online

Ecstasy lowers the immune defences of the body and destroys the nerve cells in the brain that help to counteract the effects of depression, according to Thomas Connor of Trinity College Dublin. "Ecstasy has important immuno-suppressive properties so it can dampen down the normal functioning of the immune system which has the potential to increase an individual's susceptibility to disease," Dr Connor told the British Association Festival of Science in Dublin.

"The drug has traditionally been associated with the rave dance club scene, a crowded environment where teenagers congregate - optimal for transmitting airborne infection between individuals," he said. "Exposure to higher doses of ecstasy and longer duration of exposure causes more damage to the immune system.''

Ecstasy also damages the nerve cells in the brain that produce the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin, an effect that can last for years and can lead to anxiety and depression. "It does recover slowly but not in the way it should. There's still damage in the long term," Dr Connor said. "This could be a predisposing factor to anxiety, depression, impulsive behaviour, which are associated with low serotonin."

Ecstasy also destroys the brain cells that are the targets of anti-depressants such as Prozac. "This raises the question as to whether those people who abuse ecstasy long-term, and do become depressed, will then become resistant to existing drugs," he said. "Anxiety and depression is already evident in ecstasy abusers."