Assessing the functional significance of ecstasy-related memory deficits using a virtual paradigm

Hum Psychopharmacol. Jun-Jul 2010;25(4):318-25. doi: 10.1002/hup.1119.


Rationale/objectives: Previous research shows that the use of ecstasy results in working memory and executive impairments in some users. The present study sought to assess the functional significance of such deficits using a virtual reality task.

Methods: Twenty-three ecstasy-polydrug users and 26 nonusers were recruited. Individuals completed a drug use questionnaire measures of sleep quality and fluid intelligence. Participants also completed a virtual reality executive function task in which they play the role of an office worker for the day completing predefined tasks such as prioritising different activities according to their importance, organising the physical office environment and managing the outgoing mail in accordance with a delivery schedule.

Results: MANOVA revealed that ecstasy users performed worse on the virtual reality task overall, and this was due to poorer performance on the planning and selection subscales. Contrary to expectations, ecstasy-polydrug users performed better on the time-based prospective memory subscale. Indices of ecstasy use were correlated with the planning subscale of the virtual task.

Conclusions: The present study provides further support for ecstasy/polydrug related deficits in executive functioning. As it is possible that this task is more ecologically valid and relevant to day-to-day activities of many users, previous research finding null results on executive function tasks may have underestimated the impact of ecstasy-polydrug use on executive functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / toxicity
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / toxicity
  • Cocaine / toxicity
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Executive Function / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / toxicity*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving / drug effects*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Cocaine
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine