Ecstasy (±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, MDMA) is a popular recreational drug with known serotonergic neurotoxicity. Its long-term effects on dopaminergic function are less certain. Studying the long-term effects of ecstasy is often confounded by concomitant polydrug use and the short duration of abstinence. We used (18)F-dopa positron emission tomography (PET) to investigate the long-term effects of ecstasy on nigrostriatal dopaminergic function in a group of male ex-recreational users of ecstasy who had been abstinent for a mean of 3.22 years. We studied 14 ex-ecstasy users (EEs), 14 polydrug-using controls (PCs) (matched to the ex-users for other recreational drug use), and 12 drug-naive controls (DCs). Each participant underwent one (18)F-dopa PET, cognitive assessments, and hair and urinary analyses to corroborate drug-use history. The putamen (18)F-dopa uptake of EEs was 9% higher than that of DCs (p=0.021). The putamen uptake rate of PCs fell between the other two groups, suggesting that the hyperdopaminergic state in EEs may be due to the combined effects of ecstasy and polydrug use. There was no relationship between the amount of ecstasy used and striatal (18)F-dopa uptake. Increased putaminal (18)F-dopa uptake in EEs after an abstinence of >3 years (mean) suggests that the effects are long lasting. Our findings suggest potential long-term effects of ecstasy use, in conjunction with other recreational drugs, on nigrostriatal dopaminergic functions. Further longitudinal studies are required to elucidate the significance of these findings as they may have important public health implications.
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