MDMA leads to permanent brain damage is a recurring refrain, even today. This idea has roots in a study in the early 2000s. Johns Hopkins researcher George Ricaurte injected squirrel monkeys with what was described as a “heavy party night’s dose” of MDMA. Ricaurte’s team reported the results, that even one evening’s dose of MDMA may lead to brain damage (at least in monkeys) that resembles Parkinson’s Disease in humans. The study was repeated with baboons with similar results.
The drug war hopped on the bandwagon: “We’ve long known that repeated ecstasy use damages serotonin brain cells,” Alan Leshner, a former director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), told The Guardian following the study. “This study shows that even very occasional use can have long-lasting effects on many different brain systems. It sends an important message to young people—don’t experiment with your brain.”
However, it was all a mistake/lie. During the peer review process it was discovered that they weren’t injecting MDMA, but rather Methamphetamines. The bottles were mislabeled in the lab and the original study results were not replicable. Ricaurte retracted the paper from the prestigious journal Science.
These days, MDMA is back on the research track with human subject studies on adults with PTSD and end-of-life mental health issues. This study could have derailed any legality of pursuing these sorts of studies, had it not been corrected. However, the cultural impacts of this problematic study seem to exist to this day.
NOTE: I did not deeply research this article and this single article was my primary source. As I learn more I’ll update this post. Further, if any readers have thoughts/corrections/updates, please comment.