Ecstasy use can impair immune system

Taking ecstasy can impair the immune system, according to Dr Thomas Connor at the BA festival yesterday.

Taking ecstasy can impair the immune system, according to Dr Thomas Connor at the BA festival yesterday.

As there are also many opportunities for infection in the crowded environments in which the drug is usually taken, users are likely to be at high risk of developing infectious diseases, he said.

Ireland has been ranked at the top end of the European league for drug use, according to a recent report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The report suggested that over 1 per cent of the population aged 15-64 have taken ecstasy at least once in the last year.

"Ecstasy dampens down normal functioning of the immune system," explained Dr Connor. His research demonstrates that it has both direct and indirect effects on immunity.


It can interact directly with immune cells and so has the potential to alter their activity, according to Dr Connor. Ecstasy also stimulates the release of other substances that alter the immune system, he said.

"Ecstasy acts as a stressor on the immune system," said Dr Connor. His research demonstrates that the physiological changes elicited by ecstasy closely resemble those induced by psychological or physical stress.

"The effects are very much dependent on doses used and the duration of exposure," he continued. "So, higher doses and longer durations of exposure have much more negative effects." Although the immune system is clearly affected by ecstasy, there is less conclusive evidence that this is directly related to increased susceptibility to infection, according to Dr Connor. However, preliminary evidence exists from both animal and human research, he said.

"There has been a report of a young ecstasy-user in his 20s with a herpes zoster, or shingles, infection of the eye," said Dr Connor.

"This type of infection is only seen if there is very severe immunosuppression. The only explanation in this case was his regular use of ecstasy. It has also been shown that there is a strong relationship between the extent of ecstasy use and self-reported infections," he said.