Ecstasy (MDMA) and the Heart

March 19, 2003

Drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA), heroin and cocaine all affect the brain. New data show that ecstasy can also damage the heart.

Researchers at Louisiana State University, Loyola University and Tulane School of Medicine have discovered that MDMA can change the way the heart works. People who use MDMA often go on "drug binges" when they use the drug frequently, then stop. The scientists tested a similar drug pattern using rats. In the experiments, rats were given MDMA (either 3 mg/kg or 9 mg/kg) twice a day for four consecutive days. After a 10-day period without receiving any drugs, the four-day drug treatment started again. Heart rate, electrocardiogram and blood pressure measurements from each rat were taken before and after the drug treatments. The hearts of rats were also examined under a microscope for damage at the end of the experiment.

After the first drug binge, the rats' heart rate slowed initially, then sped up. After the second and third drug binges, the heart rate slowed even more and blood pressure dropped dramatically. Many (70%) rats showed abnormal heart rhythms after receiving MDMA. Although a single MDMA binge did not result in any apparent heart damage, three MDMA binges caused inflammation of the heart wall.

It is unknown how MDMA causes these heart problems. It is possible that MDMA stimulates the autonomic nervous system which in turn affects the heart. The researchers also suggest that this drug may affect the central nervous system by altering signals in the vagus nerve. Regardless of the mechanism by which ecstasy affects the heart, it is clear that users of MDMA risk damage to their cardiovascular systems.


  1. Badon, L.A., Hicks, A., Lord, K., Ogden, B.A., Meleg-Smith, S. and Varner, K.J. Changes in cardiovascular responsiveness and cardiotoxicity elicited during binge administration of ecstasy. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapuetics, 302:898-907, 2002.

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