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Preliminary evidence of hippocampal damage in chronic users of ecstasy
  1. Bjørnar den Hollander1,
  2. Marieke Schouw1,
  3. Paul Groot1,
  4. Henk Huisman2,
  5. Matthan Caan1,
  6. Frederik Barkhof2,
  7. Liesbeth Reneman1
  1. 1Graduate School of Neurosciences, Department of Radiology, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Image Analysis Center (IAC) and Department of Radiology, VU Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr L Reneman, Department of Radiology, G1-241, Academic Medical Center, Meibergdreef 9, Amsterdam 1105 AZ, The Netherlands; l.reneman{at}


Various studies have shown that ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) users display significant memory impairments, whereas their performance on other cognitive tests is generally normal. The hippocampus plays an essential role in short-term memory. There are, however, no structural human data on the effects of ecstasy on the hippocampus. The objective of this study was to investigate whether the hippocampal volume of chronic ecstasy users is reduced when compared with healthy polydrug-using controls, as an indicator of hippocampal damage. The hippocampus was manually outlined in volumetric MRI scans in 10 male ecstasy users (mean age 25.4 years) and seven healthy age- and gender-matched control subjects (21.3 years). Other than the use of ecstasy, there were no statistically significant differences between both groups in exposure to other drugs of abuse and alcohol. The ecstasy users were on average drug-free for more than 2 months and had used on average 281 tablets over the past six and a half years. The hippocampal volume in the ecstasy using group was on average 10.5% smaller than the hippocampal volume in the control group (p=0.032). These data provide preliminary evidence that ecstasy users may be prone to incurring hippocampal damage, in line with previous reports of acute hippocampal sclerosis and subsequent atrophy in chronic users of this drug.

  • Ecstasy
  • MDMA
  • hippocampus
  • volume measurement
  • MRI
  • cognition
  • image analysis
  • neuroradiology
  • neurotoxicology
  • psychopharmacology

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  • Funding This work is funded by The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (Veni nr. 916. 86.125), awarded to LR.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.