Which is more neurotoxic MDMA or amphetamine

Why stimulant use is harmful in general

Wide awake and bursting with energy, most people find this feeling pleasant. Stimulants such as amphetamine, crystal meth, cocaine or ecstasy promise exactly that: They have a stimulating effect and convey a feeling of strength and self-confidence or increase the feeling of closeness to other people. But the fast kick has its downsides, which are often underestimated.

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From the point of view of researcher Andrew Parrott, the matter is clear: while stimulants may lift mood in the short term, they do so at the expense of longer-term psychological and physical impairment. The psychologist Parrott has been researching the field of stimulants for decades and explains in a review article why the use of these drugs is harmful.

Most people would know that chronic use of stimulant drugs is not healthy. However, the prevailing belief would also be that, for example, the occasional use of ecstasy as a party drug is safe. However, Parrott makes it clear in his article that stimulants in general pose a health hazard that is often underestimated.

Exploitation of energy reserves

Basically, stimulants such as amphetamine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), cocaine, ecstasy or nicotine do not supply the body with energy, but force it to exploit its energy reserves. Parrot also speaks of overstimulation.

The effect of stimulants is based on the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is a part of the nervous system that puts our body on high alert, for example to mobilize forces to flee or attack in a dangerous situation. The antagonist of the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system brings people back to sleep.

The artificially permanent activation of the sympathetic system shortens the recovery times of the body, which are normally necessary for repair processes. But these are important because stimulants increase what is known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals. These are reactive molecules that can damage body cells. As part of the repair process, the body would neutralize these molecules. If free radicals take over, like when consuming stimulants, the body's own mechanisms are no longer sufficient. Free radicals can thus contribute to the neurotoxic effects of stimulants. Parrott suggests that frequent use of stimulants could even accelerate the natural aging process.

Overheating damages the brain

A phenomenon that is observed with all stimulants is an increase in body temperature. Especially when stimulants are used to dance longer, it can lead to dangerous overheating of the body. A number of studies have shown that the likelihood of neurotoxic damage increases at high temperatures.

The risk of brain damage is further increased by the fact that amphetamines disrupt the blood-brain barrier. This important barrier between the bloodstream and the brain can then only fulfill its protective function to a limited extent. This makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter the brain and cause inflammation.

Hormonal balance disturbed

An important system in our body is the word monster Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, abbreviated to HHN axis. The HHN axis is a hormonal system that is particularly active under stress. An important hormone in this context is cortisol. Stress increases the amount of cortisol released into the bloodstream and helps the body to activate energy reserves. Normally, cortisol is broken down again in a control cycle. However, stimulants lead to a strong and long-lasting stress reaction and correspondingly high levels of cortisol.

According to studies, visitors to parties who consume ecstasy have been shown to have an up to 800 percent increased cortisol level. Without ecstasy, however, no significant increase in cortisol was measured in the party audience. Frequently increased levels of cortisol can, however, overload the internal compensatory mechanisms and thus bring the psycho-physiological balance out of balance. Frequent stress can trigger sleep disorders and depression.

Due to the overstimulation when using stimulants, the body needs a correspondingly long time to recover. Surveys among ecstasy users have shown that they often feel depressed and experience sleep problems after consuming it. It often takes up to a week for your mood and sleep rhythm to return to normal.

Long term mood disorders

Even the occasional consumption of stimulants disturbs the psychological balance. However, frequent use of amphetamines, cocaine or ecstasy is very likely to have negative consequences. Long-term ecstasy use is linked to mood disorders such as depression. Typical consequences of long-term use of stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine are also anxiety and inner restlessness, accompanied by tremors or stereotypical, i.e. repetitive actions. Delusions and hallucinations are also typical consequences of long-term stimulant use.


Amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy are also known as party drugs. But for the short kick at the party, consumers would accept a multitude of health risks. In his review article, the scientist Andrew Parrott worked out in detail how much the body is stressed by the consumption of stimulants. Even occasional consumption can therefore be described as harmful and would far outweigh the supposed benefits of the short-term effects.


  • Gonçalves, J., Baptista, S. & Silva, A. P. (2014). Psychostimulants and brain dysfunction: A review of the relevant neurotoxic effects. Neuropharmacology, 87, 135-149.
  • Moratalla, R., Khainar, A., Simola, N., Granado, N., García-Montes, J. R., Porceddu, P. F., Tiziabi, Y., Costa, G. & Morelli, M. (2015). Amphetamine-related drugs neurotoxicity in humans and in experimental animals: Main mechanisms. Progress in Neurobiology, doi: 10.1016 / j.pneurobio.2015.09.011
  • Parrott, A. C. (2015). Why all stimulant drugs are damaging to recreational users: an empirical overview and psychobiological explanation. Human Psychopharmacology, 30, 213-224.