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Ecstasy component may help researchers measure brain damage from the drug

Researchers in Spain have isolated for the first time a by-product of the illicit drug Ecstasy that is believed to cause some of the brain damage associated with the drug. They believe their finding will help them measure, with greater precision, the long-term neurotoxicity of Ecstasy in human users.

The report will be published in the September issue of Chemical Research in Toxicology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society.

The findings may corroborate speculation that HHMA (3,4 dihydroxymethamphetamine), is at least partially responsible for Ecstasys harm to the human brain, according to lead researcher Rafael de la Torre, D.Pharm., of the Municipal Institute of Medical Research in Barcelona. Previous study had linked HHMA to many of Ecstasys known side effects, but until now researchers had not been able to accurately measure the amounts of HHMA in users.

HHMA is created when Ecstasy (known chemically as MDMA, or 3,4- methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is metabolized through the liver. Animal studies have shown Ecstasy to damage the brains thought and memory function, but research has indicated that such side effects dont develop until the drug is metabolized. Accurately measuring the amount and concentration of HHMA in a persons body can provide new insight into the drugs effects, including how it is metabolized, and possibly determine its long-term effects, de la Torre said. HHMA does not occur naturally in the body and thus would not be found in a non-user of Ecstasy, he noted.

This observation concerns not only Ecstasys acute effects, but more interestingly, its mid- and long-term neurotoxicity, de la Torre said. The detection of HHMA was hampered up to now by problems measuring it in humans, which we have solved.

The research represents the first validated method for measuring HHMA in body fluids, according to de la Torre. It involved four men who each volunt
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Contact: Beverly Hassell
b_hassell@acs.org
202-872-4065
American Chemical Society
13-Aug-2001


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