Degenhardt, L and Bruno, RB and Topp, L, Is ecstasy a drug of dependence?, Drug and Alcohol Dependence: An International Journal on Biomedical and Psychosocial Approaches, 107, (1) pp. 1-10. ISSN 0376-8716 (2010) [Refereed Article]
This paper examines the evidence for an MDMA or "ecstasy" dependence syndrome. Animal evidence suggests that MDMA may be a less potent reinforcer than other drugs, but that it does have dependence potential. This suggests that (a) ecstasy dependence might be less likely than dependence upon other drugs; and (b) factors related to the behavioural and psychological aspects of reward and dependence may make a relatively greater contribution for ecstasy than for other drugs, where physically centred (and better understood) features of dependence may be more salient. Human evidence supports this proposition. Some people report problems with their use, but the literature suggests that physical features play a more limited role than psychological ones. Tolerance is apparent, and withdrawal is self-reported, but it is unclear whether these reports distinguish sub-acute effects of ecstasy intoxication from symptoms reflective of neuroadaptive processes underlying a "true" withdrawal syndrome. Studies examining the structure of dependence upon ecstasy suggest it may be different from drugs such as alcohol, methamphetamine and opioids. Consistent with studies of hallucinogens, a two-factor structure has been identified with factors suggestive of "compulsive use" and "escalating use". Regardless of the nature of any dependence syndrome, however, there is evidence to suggest that a minority of ecstasy users become concerned about their use and seek treatment. Further controlled studies are required to investigate this phenomenon.