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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cognitive Effects of MDMA in Laboratory Animals: A Systematic Review Focusing on Dose.

  • Author(s): Pantoni, Madeline M
  • Anagnostaras, Stephan G
  • et al.

±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that is primarily used recreationally but also may have some therapeutic value. At low doses, MDMA produces feelings of relaxation, empathy, emotional closeness, and euphoria. Higher doses can produce unpleasant psychostimulant- and hallucinogen-like adverse effects and therefore are usually not taken intentionally. There is considerable evidence that MDMA produces neurotoxicity and cognitive deficits at high doses; however, these findings may not generalize to typical recreational or therapeutic use of low-dose MDMA. Here, we systematically review 25 years of research on the cognitive effects of MDMA in animals, with a critical focus on dose. We found no evidence that doses of less than 3 mg/kg MDMA-the dose range that users typically take-produce cognitive deficits in animals. Doses of 3 mg/kg or greater, which were administered most often and frequently ranged from 5 to 20 times greater than an average dose, also did not produce cognitive deficits in a slight majority of experiments. Overall, the preclinical evidence of MDMA-induced cognitive deficits is weak and, if anything, may be the result of unrealistically high dosing. While factors associated with recreational use such as polydrug use, adulterants, hyperthermia, and hyponatremia can increase the potential for neurotoxicity, the short-term, infrequent, therapeutic use of ultra low-dose MDMA is unlikely to pose significant cognitive risks. Future studies must examine any adverse cognitive effects of MDMA using clinically relevant doses to reliably assess its potential as a psychotherapeutic.

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