Dr. Rod Irvine, of the University's Department of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology, with an increased use of ecstasy among young people, major health problems can be expected in the future.
"For many years it has been known from animal experiments that small doses of ecstasy - even if only taken on only a few occasions - can cause severe damage to certain brain cells," Irvine said in a news release. "More recently, evidence has started to accumulate suggesting that this damage may also occur in humans. Brain scans and psychological assessment of ecstasy users has been used to obtain this information.
"If our suspicions are proved correct, it will mean many of our young people will have memory loss or psychological problems in the future."
Irvine's research shows that the drug seems to work mainly through its effects on one type of brain cell, and even through one molecule in those cells. He said, "the way the body reacts chemically to ecstasy is important in producing adverse effects, as is the surrounding temperature, which can lead to users overheating."
Irvine is looking at the shorter-term consequences of ecstasy "overdoses" and has found that the high rate of death is due to a different strain of ecstasy appearing on the market in the mid 1990s.
"Normal ecstasy contains the pharmacological ingredient known as MDMA as its main ingredient, but the new strain often contained no MDMA but rather a more potent chemical known as PMA," Irvin said.
"PMA hasn't been around since the early 1970s when it was responsible for the deaths of several people in Ontario, Canada, and now it's reappeared," Dr Irvine says. "We don't know where the PMA came from, but we do know that it has been prevalent since the mid 1990s."
Source: Adelaide University Department of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology.