Discussion of MDMA Abuse Neurobiology

Subject: Sciences
Pages: 5
Words: 1144
Reading time:
5 min


The topic of this paper is the neurobiology of MDMA abuse, an essential topic for understanding the relationship between drug use and a person’s health state. In that way, the included review of relevant articles aids in exploring the negative effects of MDMA on human neural processes. The current research focuses on quantitative methods of outlining the drug impact to accentuate its detrimental role in biological functioning and seek optimal prevention strategies. Psychological and biological theories explain the interaction of MDMA and key regions of the human nervous system and the main mechanisms involved.

The search strategy used for locating the articles comprised referring to the Capella University Library database to select relevant peer-reviewed research papers. The source includes subject-specific databases, as well as Summon, which allowed filtering the search process through the use of keywords and their publishment dates. The selected research papers are all focused on analyzing the themes of substance use and its short- and long-term effects on one’s neurobiological state.


Major Themes

The major themes identified in the literature include the concept of MDMA addiction, the detrimental neurobiological impact of drug use, and its severe long-term consequences for cognitive processes. Moreover, the articles focus on the biological nuances of the issue, clearly explored in true experimental designs. For example, one study highlighted the effect of ecstasy consumption on the essential processes related to memory (García-Pardo et al., 2017). The work demonstrates the themes of MDMA usage and its negative role in object recognition and other cognitive tests in mice populations (García-Pardo et al., 2017).

Another article highlights the biological aspect of the substance issue by demonstrating the overstimulation of dopamine receptors in mice exposed to sufficient ecstasy concentrations (Squire et al., 2020). The overstimulation then contributes to decreased performance levels during memory-oriented tasks (Squire et al., 2020). Therefore, the theme of biological degradation caused by the chemicals is thoroughly explored in the article. In that way, it demonstrates the link between psychology and biology, cognition, and behavior.

Furthermore, additional research papers highlighted ideas of the drugs’ direct influence on certain regions of the brain, noting significant differences before and after usage by study participants. Moreno-López et al. (2012) investigated brain metabolism and associated self-regulatory processes and developed a negative correlation between its state and the amount of MDMA ingested (Moreno-López et al., 2012). Hence, the theme of ecstasy’s damaging nature is further accentuated in the context of neurobiology.

Analysis of Existing Studies

Several articles have been discussed in terms of their significance in expressing the main themes of the reviewed literature. It is as crucial to analyze the presented studies by discussing their strengths and weaknesses, as this would contribute to the evaluation of the overall credibility of the work.

Firstly, one general strength of the articles is the multi-variable approach and references to additional research designs exploring the same topic. In that way, Lanteri et al. (2013) conducted several experiments in their work, focusing on behavioral, neuroendocrine, and molecular perspectives (Lanteri et al., 2013). Consequently, a beneficial outcome of the whole study includes a diverse focus on various factors associated with post-addiction health issues. This strategy increases its credibility in investigating different cases of drug abuse cross-nationally. Ultimately, this study proves to be a prime example of ways to improve a research design by manipulating the number of variables.

Secondly, one general weakness of the drug-related studies is the idea of poor generalizability to human populations due to the vast number of animal experiments, primarily conducted on mice. In that way, Taghizadeh et al. (2020) investigated the effects of MDMA administration in rats (Taghizadeh et al., 2020). Although references were made to the necessary implications for human physiology cases, it can be assumed that studying human drug abuse can hardly be conducted in experimental conditions.

At the same time, this element proves valid due to the ethical considerations involved in conducting research on human drug abuse and its neurobiological consequences. While limited experimental data can be gathered with the participation of higher mammals and especially humans, the provided methodology allows for maximum topic coverage.

In specific cases, additional strengths and weaknesses of existing studies can also be highlighted. One study investigated the previously unknown effects of ecstasy on social cognition. In that way, Schmid et al. (2014) used a cross-over analysis of the results from 30 healthy participants ingesting MDMA, another substance of similar purpose, or a placebo (Schmid et al., 2014). Through the implementation of the Facial Emotion Recognition Task and other socio-cognitive tests, the researchers found that consumption of the drugs generally worsened emotion recognition abilities, as oxytocin concentrations in the blood increased (Schmid et al., 2014). The acknowledged relationship between chemical substances and the development of social interactions in the future of active users can be outlined as the strength of the study. On the other hand, it is possibly too reductionist to assume a direct link between one’s ability to recognize emotion and form relationships with other people.

Moreover, another study focused on separating the effect of the independent variable from the possible influence of external factors. Hawkey et al. (2014) conducted experiments to test rat working memory capacity after MDMA administration. An olfactory discrimination evaluation allowed focusing on the direct impact of the drug without the interference of the rats’ initial health states.


In the context of neurobiology and the practical applications of the reviewed studies, the theory of planned behavior describes the internal processes of an MDMA user. The idea essentially can be used to predict future substance abuse, as demonstrated in the study of Davis and Rosenberg (2016). The procedure outlined the significance of attitudes and subjective norms in the development of addiction (Davis & Rosenberg, 2016). The themes of the research findings can be explained through the theory of negative reinforcement, as the addictive behavior is less prominent with the removal of a negative factor (Uhl et al., 2019). May et al. (2020) demonstrated the link between MDMA users and their negative psychological and neurobiological states, causing negative reinforcement (May et al., 2020). Ultimately, the theories discussed are central in explaining the sociocognitive impact of drugs on any member of society.

Summary and Conclusion

The analyzed articles provided insight into the direct and indirect effects of MDMA on neurobiological structures and processes. The mentioned studies were additionally evaluated to assess any prominent strengths or weaknesses that would be crucial in determining their validity. One beneficial aspect of the experiments included the incorporation of several techniques and variables to increase the generalizability of the results. On the other hand, the majority of the investigations remain animal-focused for ethical purposes, with limited work conducted using human participants. Still, theories such as the theory of planned behavior and the theory of negative reinforcement aid in relating the practical outcomes to real-life social scenarios and finding the optimal solution for addiction treatment.


Davis, A. K., & Rosenberg, H. (2016). Using the Theory of Planned Behavior to predict implementation of harm reduction strategies among MDMA/ecstasy users. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 30(4), 500.

García-Pardo, M. P., De la Rubia Ortí, Jose Enrique, & Aguilar Calpe, M. A. (2017). Differential effects of MDMA and cocaine on inhibitory avoidance and object recognition tests in rodents. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 146, 1-11.

Hawkey, A., April, L. B., & Galizio, M. (2014). Effects of MDMA on olfactory memory and reversal learning in rats. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 114, 209-216. Web.

Lanteri, C., Doucet, E. L., Hernandez Vallejo, S. J., Godeheu, G., Bobadilla, A., Salomon, L., Lanfumey, L., & Tassin, J. (2014). Repeated exposure to MDMA triggers long-term plasticity of noradrenergic and serotonergic neurons. Molecular Psychiatry, 19(7), 823-833.

May, A. C., Aupperle, R. L., & Stewart, J. L. (2020). Dark times: The role of negative reinforcement in methamphetamine addiction. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11, 114-114.

Moreno-López, L., Stamatakis, E. A., Fernández-Serrano, M. J., Gómez-Río, M., Rodríguez Fernández, A., Pérez-García, M., & Verdejo-García, A. (2012). Neural correlates of the severity of cocaine, heroin, alcohol, MDMA and cannabis use in polysubstance abusers: A resting-PET brain metabolism study. PloS One, 7(6).

Schmid, Y., Hysek, C. M., Simmler, L. D., Crockett, M. J., Quednow, B. B., & Liechti, M. E. (2014). Differential effects of MDMA and methylphenidate on social cognition. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28(9), 847–856.

Squire, H., Youn, J., Ellenbroek, B. A., & Harper, D. N. (2020). The role of dopamine D1 receptors in MDMA-induced memory impairments. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 176, 107322-107322.

Taghizadeh, G., Mehdizadeh, H., Lavasani, H., Hosseinzadeh Ardakani, Y., Foroumadi, A., Halvaei Khankahdani, Z., Moshtagh, A., Pourahmad, J., Sharifzadeh, M., & Rouini, M. R. (2020). Dose concentration and spatial memory and brain mitochondrial function association after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) administration in rats. Archives of Toxicology, 94(3), 911-925.

Uhl, G. R., Koob, G. F., & Cable, J. (2019). The neurobiology of addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1451(1), 5-28.