Hair samples shows ecstasy users more stressed

ecstasy or MDMA stop sign

For the first time, researchers have used hair samples to measure levels of stress caused by MDMA or ecstasy use.

Lead researcher Luke Downey from Swinburne University of Technology studied the health effects of light and heavy users of MDMA, also known as ecstasy, by looking at cortisol levels found in hair. Cognitive performance in this group was also measured.

“Cortisol is a stress hormone that we all produce in our bodies and interestingly it is deposited in our hair,” Dr Downey says.

“Looking at cortisol in hair is a way for us to see how stressed we’ve been in the past.”

Previous studies using saliva samples have shown increased cortisol levels after taking ecstasy, but until now there has been no study that retrospectively measured these effects.

“Hair grows one centimetre per month. We took three centimetres of hair from the scalp of non-ecstasy users (control group), light ecstasy users and heavy ecstasy users to assess the level of stress on their bodies over a three month period,” Dr Downey says.

Sixty-one people took part in the study—33 females and 28 males. Their average age was 24.

Working alongside MDMA expert, Professor Andy Parrott from Swansea University in the UK, Dr Downey found increased levels of cortisol in heavy and light users of ecstasy, suggesting they had experienced greater levels of stress over the preceding three months.

Stress levels of light users of ecstasy were 50% higher than the control group. In heavy users, the amount of cortisol was about four times higher than light ecstasy users.

Dr Downey’s team also assessed the memory performance in all three groups and found poorer performance in the MDMA users.

“In measuring both stress levels and memory performance, what we wanted to know was – ‘does that repeated stress on your body relate to memory problems?’ Interestingly, no significant relationship between the memory deficits and levels of stress (indexed by the amount of cortisol) emerged,” Dr Downey says.

“This increased experience of stress appears not to be the mechanism that produces the memory deficit.”

Dr Downey is now following up this study by examining the effects of MDMA on reactivity to stressful situations using both hair and saliva samples to quantify the experience of stress of MDMA users.

The study was published in the journal, Human Psychopharmacology

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  1. snakeguy

    How does someone with an academic background sufficient to get published not know that correlation does not equal causation?

  2. Joe

    Why are you lying in this article? Read the abstract and study; no
    significant increase in stress for light use, and also? This is a
    correlation, not a causation, meaning your title is misleading, if not lying outright. Sort
    your shit.

    • Jimmy Brurilius

      Agree, ’caused by MDMA’ when the study was completely uncontrolled. No proof of MDMA use whatsoever in fact. “The participants in this study also consumed alcohol, tobacco and various illicit drugs” haha, what a joke.

  3. Jimmy Brurilius

    They don’t even know what the participants took. This research continues to be put out by Parrott & Co. Recruiting users from an illegal setting means there is no evidential basis for the results, how do they know what was consumed and how much of it? Anything can be sold as ecstasy.

  4. Jimmy Brurilius

    Post a real study where they actually take MDMA. –> “MDMA keeps severe stress at bay”

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