Originally appearing at http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2011/02/study_claim_ecstasy_doesnt_dam.php. Miami’s credentials as a cocaine capitol are well established, but for that last weekend every March during the Ultra Music Festival, it’s no secret an extravaganza of ecstasy use takes hold of the city. Now, one of the largest studies into the long term effects of the drug claims that ecstasy does not cause brain damage. A finding that flies in the face of previous studies. The study, funded by a $1.8-million grant from the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse, was carried out by Professor John Halpern at the Harvard Medical School. The findings were published in Addiction, a medical journal, last week. Previous studies have stated that Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, causes a wide range of long term cognitive side effects including memory loss, heightened instances of depression and anxiety, and brain damage. Though, Halpern’s study claims that those previous studies were flawed because control groups were not matched properly with the ecstasy users studied. Many of the subjects studied participated in rave culture, which often leads to sleep loss and dehydration. Those factors can themselves lead to long term effects. They were also likely to take other drugs. Halpern’s study matched ravers who took ecstasy (and no other drugs) with those who lived a similar lifestyle but did not use the drug. “Essentially we compared one group of people who danced and raved and took ecstasy with a similar group of individuals who danced and raved but who did not take ecstasy,” wrote Halperin. “When we did that, we found that there was no difference in their cognitive abilities.” He believes previous studies may have been detecting effects linked to dehydration, sleep deprivation, and the use of other drugs. That doesn’t mean, though, that ecstasy is a completely safe drug. With the popular Ultra Music Festival expanded to three days and completely sold out, party goers need to be well aware of other dangers. Often the drug is sold cut with other substances that may not be safe. Use of the drug is also associated with dehydration, sore jaws, and some embarrassing behavior (like rolling around on the disgusting ground at Bayfront Park or rubbing yourself all up against a stranger). So kids, remember that ecstasy is an illegal drug, and please do remember to rave safe. As a fine example of responsible science reporting, this article summarizes the results of Dr. John Halpern’s latest study finding no association between long-term Ecstasy use and damage to memory, problem-solving, or other cognitive skills. It appropriately points out that the results do not mean that Ecstasy use is always safe–to the contrary, there are a number of other risks associated with recreational Ecstasy use, and these risks need to be taken into consideration when individuals choose to use the drug. The research suggests, however, that these risks are unlikely to be due to the drug itself.