MDMA and brain activity during neurocognitive performance: An overview of neuroimaging studies with abstinent ‘Ecstasy’ users

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Abstract

MDMA/Ecstasy has had a resurgence in popularity, with recent supplies comprising higher strength MDMA, potentially leading to increased drug-related harm. Neurocognitive problems have been widely reported in ecstasy users, equally some studies report null findings, and it remains unclear which factors underlie the development of neurocognitive impairments. This review covers the empirical research into brain activity during neurocognitive performance, using fMRI, fNIRS, and EEG. Our main conclusion is that chronic repeated use of recreational ecstasy can result in haemodynamic and electrophysiological changes that reflect recruitment of additional resources to perform cognitive tasks.

Findings are consistent with serotonergic system changes, although whether this reflects neurotoxicity or neuroadaptation, cannot be answered from these data. There is a degree of heterogeneity in the methodologies and findings, limiting the strengths of current conclusions. Future research with functional neuroimaging paired with molecular imaging, genetics or pharmacological challenges of the serotonin system may help to decipher the link between serotonergic and cognitive changes in ecstasy users.

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