Italian scientists find loud music intensifies and extends the brain’s response to MDMA.

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Hard-core partiers everywhere will be raving about a new scientific result for days: Listening to loud music while “rolling” on ecstasy makes the high longer and stronger.

A recent study published in the open access journal BMC Neuroscience found that a low dose of ecstasy (or MDMA) on its own yields no noticeable changes in the brain. However, when the user is exposed to loud noise for a few hours after consuming the drug, the same dose of ecstasy dramatically increases brain activity. And while the effects of even high doses of the drug normally wear off in a few hours, users who mix MDMA with loud music show alterations in their brains several days after it is administered.

The study’s lead author, Michelangelo Iannone of the Institute of Neurological Science in Italy, says ecstasy’s effects are enhanced by relatively common environmental factors.

“We stress the potential danger for many substances that have been so ‘popularly’ accepted as relatively ‘safe’ owing to their ‘short term’ effects,” he said via e-mail. “I think that these effects could be cumulative, because the administration of the drug five or six days later is done by an organism that is [still] under the effects of the preceding administration.”

The researchers got their results by studying the effects of ecstasy on rats divided into six groups. Each rat was administered with either saline solution, a low dosage (3 mg/kg) of MDMA or a high dosage (6 mg/kg) of MDMA. The researchers then placed their subjects in quiet conditions or exposed them to loud white noise.

The continuous noise was kept at a level of 95 dB, the maximum intensity allowed in Italian nightclubs, and played for a single period starting one hour before the administration and ending four hours later. The team attached electrodes to each rat’s cerebral cortex and performed an electrocorticogram to measure the activity in that brain region.

Three groups showed a significant increase in cortical activity: the high-dosage/music group experienced the greatest activity, followed by the low-dosage/music group and the high-dosage/no music group. One day after the administration of the drug, the cortical activity of both the low-dosage/music group and the high-dosage/no music group had nearly returned to normal. However, the high-dosage/music group had significantly altered brain activity even five days after the drug was administered: The ecstasy had stayed with them for over five times as long as it would have without the four hours of noise.

Iannone said they have preliminary results on a study using techno music instead of white noise, and the effect appears to be identical. Studies on the effects of light stimulation and alcohol intake on MDMA users are also underway.

David, whose name has been altered to preserve anonymity, a man who has used ecstasy both in loud and quiet contexts, said that while he hasn’t specifically noticed music increasing the duration of his high, the effects of the drug are less noticeable without music, and the high is qualitatively different.

“Rhythm especially becomes exquisite while on ecstasy,” he said via e-mail. “Part of the way music moves us is that it stirs our emotions, and ecstasy heightens positive emotion. So, imagine the most sweeping musical crescendo you’ve ever heard, and then on ecstasy it’s times ten.”

David also mentioned that after using MDMA with music, he was unable to get the music out of his head and still remembers it today, several years later. He said even now similar music gives him a little bit of a “flashback.”

Iannone said he hopes his results will prevent people from putting themselves in greater danger by showing them the dangers of combining MDMA with loud music, but he’s somewhat pessimistic about the power of his results.

“I do not think that a scientific paper could change some situations,” he said. “We hope that it could contribute to making people [conscious] of the damage they do to themselves.

Originally published February 15, 2006

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