Impulsivity, risk taking and recreational 'ecstasy' (MDMA) use

Butler, G.K.L. and Montgomery, A.M.J. (2004) Impulsivity, risk taking and recreational 'ecstasy' (MDMA) use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 76(1), pp. 55-62. ISSN (print) 0376-8716


The present study investigated characteristics of recreational drug users, especially 'ecstasy' (MDMA) users, in 254 undergraduates. All participants completed a drug history questionnaire (DHQ), the impulsiveness venturesomeness and empathy questionnaire, a novel risk-taking task (Bets16), and 59 also completed the tri-dimensional personality questionnaire (TPQ). DHQ responses allocated participants to five groups: non-drug controls, cannabis users, polydrug (no ecstasy) users, low (<20 occasions) ecstasy users and high (>20 occasions) ecstasy users. Eighteen percent of the sample had used ecstasy and of the ecstasy users, only one had not used other substances. A larger proportion of high ecstasy users had also used amphetamines, cocaine and LSD in comparison to the low ecstasy and non-ecstasy polydrug users. High ecstasy users typically took significantly more ecstasy tablets compared with low ecstasy users. Impulsiveness, venturesomeness and novelty seeking behaviour increased from the non-drug users to high ecstasy users. Ecstasy users (low and high) and polydrug (non-ecstasy) users had higher levels of impulsivity, venturesomeness and novelty seeking behaviour compared with non-drug users. Furthermore, high ecstasy users scored higher on the Bets16 risk-taking measure than non-drug users, cannabis users and low ecstasy users. The findings are discussed in relation to: (i) the possibility that increased impulsivity pre-dated drug use; and (ii) the possible link between impulsivity and the putative serotonergic neurotoxicity of ecstasy.

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