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Serotonin, also known as 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine), is a neurotransmitter
found at the synapses of certain neurons. That is, it is released by the tip of one
stimulated neuron, and recognized by an adjacent neuron, causing it to fire and so on. In
this way, the nerve impulse is propagated throughout the nervous system. Note that after
a nerve fires at a synapse, the neurotransmitter must be taken back up by the original
neuron. This so-called “re-uptake” is an extremely important aspect of nervous system
Different neurotransmitters are found in different parts of the nervous system.
Serotonin is found in parts of the brain associated with memory, emotions, and feelings.
It is also important for body temperature regulation among other things.
MDMA or ecstasy causes the rapid release of serotonin from neurons, in essence
causing many to fire at once. This can cause an intense feeling of well-being and is
found to be pleasurable by some. Recent research reveals that the serotonin is released
because the MDMA interacts with the proteins responsible for transporting serotonin
around the neuron as it gets ready to fire.
Every generation for the past several, young people have believed they have
found the first truly safe recreational drug. First it was LSD in the 60’s, then it was
cocaine in my era. Both have been shown to be harmful in numerous ways. Recently,
ecstasy has been touted as being safe and all-night rave parties are still growing in
popularity. This is truly scary as ecstasy has recently been found to be extremely
dangerous, causing what appears to be permanent brain damage with even a single use.
No this is not overstated propaganda to stop use of a drug. It is a scientific warning that
ecstasy users are harming themselves, perhaps permanently.
Through mechanisms that are only now being understood, it turns out that the
serotonin containing neurons die in response to exposure to ecstasy!!! They undergo
programmed cell death, apoptosis. The first result of this is that users have to take more
ecstasy to get the same effect, causing even more damage with subsequent use. Clinical
studies have also established that this is associated with loss of memory function. It is a
very long lasting effect, and it is feared to be permanent. A recent article indicates that
neurons that use dopamine as a neurotransmitter are also killed by ecstasy. This means
that users of ecstasy may become susceptible to Parkinson’s disease along with memory
function loss. One last problem. A significant number of animals in studies die from
hyperthermia when given even one dose of ecstasy. That is, they lose control of their
body temerature and they die. This happens in too many people as well, creating the real
threat of fatal overdose. Bottom line: ecstasy is extremely damaging and should never be