Neuroimaging in human MDMA (ecstasy) users: A cortical model

Ronald L. Cowan, Deanne M. Roberts, James M. Joers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

23 Scopus citations


MDMA (3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has been used by millions of people worldwide as a recreational drug. The terms "MDMA" and "Ecstasy" are often used synonymously, but it is important to note that the purity of Ecstasy sold as MDMA is not certain. MDMA use is of public health concern, not so much because MDMA produces a common or severe dependence syndrome, but rather because rodent and nonhuman primate studies have indicated that MDMA (when administered at certain dosages and intervals) can cause long-lasting reductions in markers of brain serotonin (5-HT) that appear specific to fine-diameter axons arising largely from the dorsal raphe nucleus (DR). Given the popularity of MDMA, the potential for the drug to produce long-lasting or permanent 5-HT axon damage or loss, and the widespread role of 5-HT function in the brain, there is a great need for a better understanding of brain function in human users of this drug. To this end, neuropsychological, neuroendocrine, and neuroimaging studies have all suggested that human MDMA users may have long-lasting changes in brain function consistent with 5-HT toxicity. Data from animal models leads to testable hypotheses regarding MDMA's effects on the human brain. Because neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings have focused on the neocortex, a cortical model is developed to provide a context for designing and interpreting neuroimaging studies in MDMA users. Aspects of the model are supported by the available neuroimaging data, but there are controversial findings in some areas and most findings have not been replicated across different laboratories and using different modalities. This paper reviews existing findings in the context of a cortical model and suggests directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDrug Addiction
Subtitle of host publicationResearch Frontiers and Treatment Advances
PublisherBlackwell Publishing Inc
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781573317184
StatePublished - Oct 2008

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)0077-8923
ISSN (Electronic)1749-6632


  • Drug abuse
  • Drug toxicity
  • Functional MRI
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Positron emission tomography


Dive into the research topics of 'Neuroimaging in human MDMA (ecstasy) users: A cortical model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this