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Ecstasy users
more prone to disease

Ecstasy users
more prone to disease

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 Thomas Connor of Ireland's 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 conference 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 [germs] going around."

Connor said evidence so far suggests that 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 is 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 are growing signs that the physical damage done by the drug reduces the effectiveness of antidepressants such as Prozac. "In ecstasy users, the proteins that Prozac works on are greatly diminished in number," he said, cautioning that results so far are based on studies on animals rather than clinical trials. (Reuters)

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