Neurobiology and Pharmacokinets of Acute MDMA Administration

Brief Summary


  • 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as ecstasy, is a synthetic psychoactive drug that has shown a steep increase in recreational use and abuse by young people in recent years. Research studies have reported that chronic MDMA users who also consume other legal and illegal substance show memory deficits; however, because of the combination of drugs often involved, it is difficult to determine MDMA s contribution to these effects.
  • Only a few studies have examined the immediate physical and behavioral effects of MDMA given at dose levels commonly used in young adults. Researchers are interested in using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine changes in brain activity and function in MDMA users compared with users of other drugs and non-drug-using individuals.


- To evaluate the effects of MDMA on thinking and brain function.


- Individuals between 18 and 30 years of age who are (1) current users of MDMA (2), current drug users who do not use MDMA, or (3) healthy non-drug-using volunteers.


  • Participants will complete one training session and three scanning sessions.
  • Before the start of the study, participants will complete questionnaires about medical and psychological history, and provide information about past or current drug use. Researchers will introduce the tasks to be performed during the scanning session(s), and will allow participants to practice the tests.
  • Participants will provide urine, saliva, and hair samples for testing before the start of the study, and multiple times during each scanning session.
  • Participants who use MDMA and participants who use other drugs will stay overnight at the clinical center prior to each scanning session. Participants who do not use drugs can spend the night prior to scanning or arrive at the clinical center on the morning of the scanning session.
  • Participants who use MDMA will receive either MDMA or a placebo during the scanning sessions, and will not be told which one they have received. Because of the nature of MDMA, participants will be required to stay at the clinical center until the effects of the drug have worn off, and will be required to return to the clinical center on the following day for a follow-up examination.
  • During the study, participants will be asked to do one or more tasks selected by the researchers. The tasks will be performed on a computer in an MRI machine, and may involve receiving monetary rewards for actions, memory and reaction-time tests, or other tests that involve responding to instructions on the screen.

Intervention / Treatment

  • Drug: MDMA
  • Drug: (+/-)3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine Hydrochloride, MDMA HCI Capsules

Condition or Disease

  • Substance-Related Disorders


Study Design

Study type: Interventional
Status: Completed
Study results: No Results Available
Age: 18 Years to 40 Years   (Adult)
Enrollment: 187 ()
Funded by: NIH


Clinical Trial Dates

Start date: Feb 10, 2004
Primary Completion: Aug 30, 2020
Completion Date: Jul 18, 2012
Study First Posted: Jun 22, 2010
Results First Posted: Aug 30, 2020
Last Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Sponsors / Collaborators

Lead Sponsor: N/A
Responsible Party: N/A

Background: 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as ecstasy, is a synthetic compound that has shown a steep increase in abuse by young people in recent years. In animals, when high and multiple doses of MDMA were given, serotonergic toxicity was observed. Clinically, the number of severe ecstasy related acute toxicities is low in relation to the extent of recreational use. Data from some retrospective studies report memory deficits in abstinent chronic users who often abuse MDMA with other illicit and licit substances; therefore, it is difficult to determine MDMA s contribution to observed cognitive deficits. There are few prospective controlled MDMA human administration studies that describe its acute physiological and behavioral effects following doses commonly used in young adults. We propose a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to examine specific changes in brain activity and cognitive performance and to correlate these changes with plasma MDMA concentrations.

Goals: The primary goals are identification of MDMA effects on human brain function and elucidation of the relationship of effects to plasma MDMA concentrations. We propose a within-subject design of changes in memory, attention, affect, semantic processing and decision-making performance following placebo and two recreational MDMA doses with simultaneous fMRI monitoring and plasma collections. Secondly, pharmacokinetic data will be collected on the disposition of MDMA and metabolites in plasma, urine, oral fluid, sweat, breath, and hair. These data are needed to accurately interpret drug concentrations in alternative biological matrices in order for drug tests to function as a deterrent to drug use in drug abuse treatment, law enforcement, military, and workplace drug testing programs. Pharmacokinetic data will also enable drug tests to serve as valid diagnostic tools in emergency medicine and public safety settings, as well as useful objective outcome measures in treatment research.

Subject Population: Eighteen current MDMA users will complete the neurocognitive and pharmacokinetics group. Thirty-six MDMA non-using controls will include 18 non-drug using participants and 18 drug using (primarily cannabis) participants. Controls in each group will be matched to MDMA users in the neurocognitive and pharmacokinetics group. All participants must be between the ages of 18 and 40. The estimated target enrollment, based on ecstasy use by race/ethnic group and Baltimore demographics, will be 41% female and 59% male, 83% Caucasian, 14% African American, 3% Asian, and 2% Hispanic.

Experimental Design and Methods: A randomized, balanced, double blind, within-subject drug administration study with placebo, low (1.0 mg/kg, approximately 70 mg) and high (1.6 mg/kg, approximately 112 mg) doses of MDMA is proposed. The non-drug using and drug using control groups will be matched to MDMA users in the neurocognitive and pharmacokinetics group for sex, age, IQ, education level and intersession interval. The drug using control group will control for cannabis and other drug usage in the MDMA group. The drug using control group is necessary because many MDMA users also use other drugs, primarily cannabis. Control groups allow for a between-subjects analysis for trait differences between the population groups, as well as provide normative data for the cognitive tasks. Drug using control group participants will stay on the clinical research unit overnight prior to each of the three sessions; non-drug using control group participants will arrive the morning of each session. Participants from the MDMA group will complete three separate stays, each lasting approximately 26 hours, within one year. While under the influence of MDMA, qualified participants will perform memory, attention, semantic processing, affect and decision-making tasks before, during, and after fMRI scanning. Physiological, behavioral and biochemical measures of all MDMA users will be monitored throughout the study to determine onset, magnitude and duration of pharmacodynamic effects. Blood, urine, oral fluid, sweat, breath, and hair specimens will be collected from MDMA users for analysis of MDMA and metabolite concentrations by GC/MS and/or LC/MS/MS to determine the disposition and pharmacokinetics of MDMA.

Risks and Benefits: A main potential risk of this study is associated with acute cardiovascular responses to MDMA administration; however, these doses have proven safe and well tolerated in previous human studies conducted within the US and abroad. In addition, impaired cognitive function has been reported following long-term MDMA use in some but not all studies. A potential benefit of the proposed study is to understand how MDMA affects human brain function at doses employed by recreational users. Additionally, advances will be made in understanding MDMA pharmacokinetics.

Eligibility Criteria

Sex: All
Minimum Age: 18
Maximum Age: 40

More Details

NCT Number: NCT01148342
Other IDs: 999904394|04-DA-N394
Study URL:
Last updated: Jun 16, 2022