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Hasn't Ricaurte's research into MDMA neurotoxicity been debunked?
Q: I was reading the article provided in the link at the top of the MDMA Neurotoxicity page, the one that links to Matthew Baggott's article. I noticed that in the article, Baggott cites studies from George Ricaurte, et al. I'm a little troubled that nothing is mentioned before this article or anywhere near it, about how Ricaurte's findings have been called into question after his retraction of the "MDMA causes Parkinson's" study. Anyway, I was just concerned about how prominently this article is displayed when I think a lot of the cited studies are questionable.

A: Ricaurte's MDMA and Parkinson's finding was a debacle, but the rest of the work from his lab is generally accurate, even if the politics surrounding it are problematic. Some of the articles describing their results need to be examined closely because the abstracts overstate their findings. Except for the Parkinson's paper--whose major flaws have been widely discussed--the problem with Ricaurte et al.'s work isn't in the research, the problem is in the spin put on the results. Ricaurte based his career on attempting to show that MDMA is harmful to users' brains and the lab's reputation was seriously damanged with the accidental substitution of methamphetamine for MDMA in the parkinsons study.

You can read our version of the response to the Ricaurte error here:

Though Baggott's MDMA Neurotoxicity article to which you refer dates from 2001, and there has been quite a bit of research published since it was written, overall the findings are about what you would expect:
  1. MDMA causes damage to serotonin neurons at high doses.
  2. High doses used by humans overlap with levels shown to be neurotoxic in rats and non-human primates.
  3. Clear neurotoxicity has been demonstrated in rats, mice, and non-human primates. This damage is not neuronal cell death but changes to the axons of the serotonin neurons.
  4. Unequivocal neurotoxicity has not been demonstrated in human brains, though some changes appear to be detectable and mappable using current technology.
  5. Risk of neurotoxicity likely increases with higher doses, re-dosing, and stacking multiple doses.
  6. Risk of serotonergic damage could be highly individual: some people are likely more susceptible than others.
  7. MDMA neurotoxicity in humans probably results in mild, but detectable, reductions in some types of verbal memory and possibly in an increase in depressive symptoms in some people.
  8. Small but persistent negative effects on some verbal memory scores for very high-dose, high-volume users of Ecstasy have been shown by multiple researchers.
  9. Any functional neurotoxic effects seem like they mostly, but perhaps not completely, diminish with time after last exposure
Research continues to refine the boundaries of MDMA neurotoxicity in humans in terms of dosage and types of problems that result from damage. It will be years before we really know the extent of the types of problems some people might have with high dose, repeated use and what types of people never experience any problems.

Users should prioritize concerns about acute risks of overheating, hypnonatremia, interactions with other drugs, individual sensitivity to the drug, and unhealthy behaviors around recreational stimulants more highly than concerns about neurotoxicity. One of the more interesting neurotoxicity findings from the last 25 years--explored in research published between 2003 and 2009--looks at how exposure to a low dose of a neurotoxin may provide protection against more severe damage from a later, higher dose of the same substance. We discussed these findings in Erowid Extracts #17 (Nov 2009).

Asked By : Wyatt
Answered By : Earth
Edited By : Spoon, Jon, Fire
Published Date : 3 / 11 / 2010
Last Edited Date : 3 / 11 / 2010
Question ID : 3143

Categories: [ Neurotoxicity ] [ MDMA (Ecstasy) ] [ Effects ]

Ask Erowid v1.7 - Jul, 2005

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