3,4-methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine (MDMA) ('Ecstasy') and its analogue 3,4-methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine (MDE) ('Eve') are well known illicit street drugs mainly abused by young people. In spite of the actual research going on, the classification of their abuse potential remains unclear. Since secondary reinforcers are the main factors responsible for craving and relapse, the aim of our study was to assess the potency of MDMA and MDE in a second order reinforcement paradigm, i.e. conditioned place preference (CPP). For the general assessment of our study conditions, we compared MDMA with amphetamine. Unexpectedly, no significant CPP for MDMA was found in contrast to amphetamine. Detailed analysis of current literature led us to the working hypothesis that social environment is crucial for the development of CPP. In a subsequent experiment we tested the influence of housing conditions on CPP using MDMA and demonstrated that isolated animals show significant CPP compared to group-housed ones. In order to better understand the rewarding mechanisms of Ecstasy-derivatives, we tested both the racemic drugs and the pure isomers in the CPP paradigm. Both MDMA's optical isomers and racemic MDMA showed significant CPP without notable differences, while MDE and its isomers completely failed to show any significant CPP. In conclusion, the mechanism by which MDMA induces addiction is much more complicated than assumed so far and more pronounced in isolated animals. The fact that both optical isomers of MDMA led to CPP implies that at least two pathways by which MDMA induces craving behaviour exist.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.