Research indicates that the use of recreational drugs, including MDMA ('ecstasy') can result in impairments in cognitive functioning. Recent evidence, based on accounts of 'on drug' effects and cortical binding ratios suggests that women may be more susceptible to the effects of MDMA; however, no research has explored whether there are differences in the long-term behavioural sequelae of the drug between men and women. In addition, little is known about the profile of functioning of the 'typical' user. The present investigation accessed a large sample of recreational drug users, using the Internet, to obtain self-reports of memory functioning with a view to exploring any differences in self-reported ability amongst male and female users, and the level of difficulty reported by the 'typical' ecstasy user. A web site (www.drugresearch.org.uk) was developed and used for data collection. Prospective memory ability was assessed using the Prospective Memory Questionnaire. Self-report of day-to-day memory performance was investigated using the Everyday Memory Questionnaire. The UEL Drug Questionnaire assessed the use of other substances. The number of mistakes made while completing the questionnaires was also taken as an objective measure of performance errors. Findings, based on datasets submitted from 763 respondents, indicate no differences in self-reports of functioning between male and female participants. An overall dissociation between the effects of cannabis and ecstasy on self-reported memory functioning and on the likelihood of making an error during the completion of the questionnaire was found. Typical ecstasy users were found to report significantly more difficulties in long-term prospective memory and to make more completion errors than users of other substances and drug naive controls. Whilst taking into account the fact that participants were recruited via the World Wide Web and that a number of stringent exclusion criteria were applied to the data, a number of conclusions can be drawn. Recreational drug users perceive their memory ability to be impaired compared to non-users. The type of memory difficulties reported varies depending upon the drug of choice. These difficulties are exacerbated in ecstasy users. Individuals reporting average levels of use of ecstasy are more likely to report memory problems than non-ecstasy drug users or drug free individuals. The deleterious effects of ecstasy are therefore not restricted to heavy or chronic users. No gender differences were detected, suggesting that there may be a dissociation between cognitive impairment and cortical binding worthy of further exploration.
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