Regular use of a party drug 'liquid ecstasy' can cause changes in the brain leading to lower IQ, and increased stress and anxiety, a study has found.
GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), also known as 'G' or 'liquid ecstasy', is a central nervous system depressant. It is used extensively in clubs, and private house parties.
It produces an initial feeling of euphoria in users, but it can also cause sleepiness, and users easily tip into a coma. Some regular recreational users will often fall into a coma, which can require hospital treatment.
To understand the effects of GHB on the brain, scientists from the Amsterdam UMC in Netherlands, recruited 27 GHB users who had experienced multiple GHB-induced comas (with a minimum of 4 comas), 27 GHB users who had never had a coma, and 27 volunteers who had used drug combinations (polydrug), but had never used GHB.
Each person was asked to complete an adult reading test as proxy for IQ, anxiety, depression and stress questionnaires and they performed different neurocognitive tasks while undergoing a brain scan (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
It is not unusual for regular GHB users have experienced more than 50 GHB-induced comas.
Despite its limited recreational use, GHB overdose and coma is the third most common drug-related cause for emergency medical attendance in Europe, after heroin and cocaine, and this trend is increasing, researchers said.
Researchers found that GHB use, even in those who did not undergo a coma, was associated with alterations in identification of negative emotions.
The presence of GHB-induced comas was associated with lower IQ, and altered brain processes during verbal long-term memory and working memory.
Additional analyses showed that these findings could not be attributed to group differences in the use of drugs other than GHB.
"Surprisingly little is known about the effects of GHB in humans, and as far as we know, these are the first functional MRI scans to gauge the effect of the regular GHB use and multiple GHB-induced comas," said lead researcher Filipa Raposo Pereira.
"Our results indicate that there may be risks involved in regular GHB use. This is particularly relevant to regular users with multiple GHB-induced comas; we found that these users show differences in cognition to either those who don't fall into a coma, or drug users who have never used GHB," she said.
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