Retracted article on dopaminergic neurotoxicity of MDMA

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"Severe dopaminergic neurotoxicity in primates after a common recreational dose regimen of MDMA[nb 1] ("ecstasy")",[1] is a 2002 paper by George A. Ricaurte which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, one of the world's top academic journals. It was later retracted; instead of using MDMA, methamphetamine had been used in the test.[2]

Original publication[edit]

An editorial article on the paper indicated that researchers had observed dopaminergic neurotoxicity in monkeys following MDMA injections, a finding which suggested that recreational users of MDMA may be at risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders associated with dopamine dysfunction.[3]

Following the release of the paper, Science published a “News of the week” article by Constance Holden. [4]The article noted that the results of the study had caused the researchers concern that even a single night of MDMA usage could cause brain damage, and leave a person vulnerable to neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Holden also noted that the findings of the study were surprising, due to MDMA being known for prompting the release of large amounts of serotonin, but not dopamine. In the article, cognitive neuroscientist Jon Cole was described as being “skeptical” about the risk of Parkinson’s from MDMA use, stating that there had been only been one case report of Parkinson’s related to the use of ecstasy. In response, the researchers stated that this could be due to symptoms not presenting until “70% to 80%“ of dopamine had been depleted.

Alan lasher, a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, also commented on the study- stating ”This says even a single evening's use is playing Russian roulette with your own brain”[5]


In June 2003, a letter to Science was published in which the results of the study were questioned. Ricaurte stood by the findings.[6]

In September 2003, the paper was retracted. In a statement published in ‘’Science’’, the research team indicated that due to a labelling error, methamphetamine had been administered to 9 of the 10 test animals instead of MDMA. The team had consistently been unable to replicate the original results, which lead to them conducting and investigation and ultimately discovering the error. [2]

Following the retraction, Ricuarte stated that he would continue to investigate the possibility of a relationship between MDMA and dopamine dysfunction, and that the laboratory would be adjusting its chemical handling procedure.[7]


In a review of the year's events published in the December issue of Science, Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy wrote, "It was also a vintage year for scientific fluffs. We shared in one: Some vials containing the recreational drug Ecstasy got switched with vials containing methamphetamine, and we wound up publishing a paper we wish we hadn't".[8]

Journalists such as Larry Smith and Carla Spartos have stated that the inaccurate study may have influenced drug policy being made at the time, such as the RAVE act.[9][10][11]

In an interview in The Scientist[12] British scientists Colin Blakemore and Leslie Iversen described how they expressed concerns about the article with editors at Science. "It's an outrageous scandal," Iversen told The Scientist. "It's another example of a certain breed of scientist who appear to do research on illegal drugs mainly to show what the governments want them to show. They extract large amounts of grant money from the government to do this sort of biased work.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) is the chemical name for the psychotropic drug commonly known as "ecstasy".


  1. ^ Ricaurte GA, Yuan J, Hatzidimitriou G, Cord BJ, McCann UD (September 2002). "Severe dopaminergic neurotoxicity in primates after a common recreational dose regimen of MDMA ("ecstasy")". Science. 297 (5590): 2260–3. Bibcode:2002Sci...297.2260R. doi:10.1126/science.1074501. PMID 12351788. S2CID 41968301.
  2. ^ a b Ricaurte GA, Yuan J, Hatzidimitriou G, Cord BJ, McCann UD (September 2003). "Retraction". Science. 301 (5639): 1479b–1479. doi:10.1126/science.301.5639.1479b. PMID 12970544. S2CID 220097819.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ "More Dangers from Designer Drugs". Science's STKE. 2002 (152): 360tw–360. 2002. doi:10.1126/stke.2002.152.tw360. ISSN 1525-8882. S2CID 219191294.
  4. ^ "Drug Find Could Give Ravers the Jitters". Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  5. ^ Rick Weiss "On Ecstasy, Consensus Is Elusive:Study Suggesting Risk of Brain Damage Questioned by Critics of Methodology" Washington Post, Monday, September 30, 2002; Page A07 Archived copy
  6. ^ Mithoefer, Michael; Jerome, Lisa; Doblin, Richard; Ricaurte, George A. (2003-06-06). "MDMA ("Ecstasy") and Neurotoxicity". Science. 300 (5625): 1504–1505. doi:10.1126/science.300.5625.1504.
  7. ^ Holden C (September 2003). "Retraction. Paper on toxic party drug is pulled over vial mix-up". Science. 301 (5639): 1454b–1454. doi:10.1126/science.301.5639.1454b. PMID 12970527. S2CID 36895308.
  8. ^ Kennedy D (December 2003). "Breakthrough of the year". Science. 302 (5653): 2033. doi:10.1126/science.302.5653.2033. PMID 14684786. S2CID 31164282.
  9. ^ Smith L (17 September 2003). Richmond C, Talbot D, Keane E (eds.). "E-fer madness". San Francisco, California, United States of America:, LLC. OCLC 43916723. Archived from the original on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  10. ^ Carla Spartos (Mar 2, 2004). "The Ecstasy Factor: Bad Science Slandered a Generation's Favorite Drug. Now a New Study Aims to Undo the Damage". villagevoice. Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
  11. ^ "Ecstasy's after-effects". Nature. 425 (6955): 223. September 2003. Bibcode:2003Natur.425Q.223.. doi:10.1038/425223a. PMID 13679872.
  12. ^ Walgate R (16 September 2003). Garfield E (ed.). "Retracted Ecstasy paper "An outrageous scandal."". The Scientist. New York City, New York, United States of America: LabX Media Group. 4 (1). ISSN 0890-3670. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2021.

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