Brain imaging experiments have revealed for the first time how ecstasy produces feelings of euphoria in users.

“We found that Ecstasy, or MDMA, caused reduced blood flow in regions of the brain linked to emotion and memory. These effects may be related to the feelings of euphoria that people experience on the drug,” said Robin Carhart-Harris from the department of medicine at Imperial College London.

The researchers chose 25 volunteers who underwent brain scans on two occasions - one after taking the drug and one after taking a placebo - without knowing which they had been given.

The results show that MDMA decreases activity in the limbic system - a set of structures involved in emotional responses.

These effects were stronger in participants who reported stronger subjective experiences, suggesting that they are related.

“Ecstasy also increased communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus - two lobe structures linked to two independent memory systems in the brain,” said David Nutt, the Edmond J. Safra professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College.

“The findings suggest possible clinical uses of MDMA in treating anxiety and PTSD, but we need to be careful as the research was done on healthy volunteers. We would have to do studies in patients to see if we find the same effects,” added Nutt.

“In healthy volunteers, MDMA seems to lessen the impact of painful memories. This fits with the idea that it could help patients with PTSD,” concluded Carhart-Harris.


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