Scientists Retract Story on Ecstasy Brain Damage
Reuters News Service
September 5, 2003
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers horrified to find they had used a mislabeled bottle in an experiment retracted their findings on Friday, saying they had failed to show the drug Ecstasy can cause a certain pattern of brain damage.

Their original report, published in September 2002, said they had found Parkinson's disease-like damage in the brains of monkeys injected with Ecstasy or MDMA.

"The authors recently discovered that the drug used to treat all but one animal in that report came from a bottle that contained methamphetamine instead of the intended drug, MDMA ('Ecstasy')," the American Association for the Advancement of Science (news - web sites), which published the study in its journal Science, said in a statement.

Neurologists Dr. Una McCann, Dr. George Ricaurte and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore said their experiment in fact showed nothing surprising.

"Notably, methamphetamine would be expected to produce the same pattern of combined...neurotoxicity as that seen in the animals reported in our paper," they wrote in a letter to Science.

They found that 60 percent to 80 percent of the nerve endings of dopamine-producing neurons in the monkeys were destroyed after just a few doses. These are the same brain cells destroyed in Parkinson's disease, which starts out with a mild shakiness that progresses to near-paralysis.

The researchers said they became suspicious when they were unable to duplicate their original findings.

They had the original bottles tested and found nothing suspicious -- but the original Ecstasy-labeled bottle had been thrown out.

But "we did have frozen brains from two animals that died shortly after drug treatment," they wrote.

They analyzed the brains and found they contained methamphetamine only. "Not even trace amounts of MDMA or its metabolite MDA were found in these brains," they wrote.

They determined that the original bottle had been mislabeled.

They noted that the idea remained valid because other studies have shown that Ecstasy users can develop Parkinson's disease-like symptoms.

Related Links:  Scientific Community Responds to Ricaurte Study  |  MAPS MDMA Research Page  |  MAPS in the Media