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Ecstasy users more prone to disease: scientist

September 7, 2005

By Paul Hoskins

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Clubbers using ecstasy to keep them
dancing through the night may damage their immune systems while
those suffering from depression induced by the drug could be
more difficult to treat, a neuroscientist said on Wednesday.

Developed as an appetite suppressant but now used at raves
and night clubs to reduce inhibitions, ecstasy has been linked
to psychiatric illnesses but Dr Thomas Connor of Trinity
College Dublin believes it may also put physical health at
risk.

“Ecstasy has potent immunosuppressant qualities which have
the ability to increase an individual’s susceptibility to
disease,” Connor told journalists at the British Association
for the Advancement of Science annual festival in Dublin.

The environment in which ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is
taken further increases the risk of contracting infectious
diseases, he said.

“People ingest these drugs in crowded nightclubs full of
young people with lots of bugs (germs) going around.”

Connor said evidence so far suggested somebody taking two
tablets during a night out would experience a weakening in the
body’s natural defenses lasting up to 48 hours. Scientists have
yet to study the long-term impact on the immune system but the
potential was there for damage in hard-core users, he added.

Connor pointed to anecdotal evidence suggesting a higher
risk of illness such as web sites used by clubbers advising
that they eat plenty of fruit and vegetables in order to boost
their immune systems before taking the drug.

There had been instances of unusual illnesses in young
users such as shingles of the eye and cases of meningitis,
which causes inflammation of the membrane covering the brain
and spinal cord, shortly after ingesting the drug, he said.

In the face of evidence that MDMA can lead to depression,
anxiety and psychosis, Connor said there were growing signs the
physical damage done by the drug reduced the effectiveness of
anti-depressants such as Prozac.

“In ecstasy users the proteins that Prozac works on are
greatly diminished in number,” he said, cautioning however that
results so far were based on studies on animals rather than
clinical trials.




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