Taking ecstasy several times a night, a common practice among users of the party drug that is popular among gay men, may damage key neurons in the brain and hasten onset of Parkinson's disease, according to a study by researchers at Stanford University. The researchers injected monkeys and baboons with three shots of ecstasy, also known as MDMA, three hours apart, mimicking dosages typically taken at all-night dance parties. The drug was shown to damage the dopamine-producing neurons in the brains of the animals, and the damage from the three doses was still detectable six weeks later, according to the study published in the journal Science.
"We already know from the literature that brain dopamine declines with age," said lead researcher George Ricaurte. "A young individual who sustains injury to these dopamine cells and depletes their reserve may be at greater risk of Parkinsonism."
Parkinson's disease is brought on by the death of 90%-95% of the brain cells that make dopamine. The Stanford researchers determined that 60%-80% of the dopamine-producing cells of the animals studied were damaged by ecstasy use. It is not known if the damage caused by ecstasy use can be repaired over time or if it is permanent.