, Volume 181, Issue 3, pp 550–559 | Cite as

Reasoning deficits in ecstasy (MDMA) polydrug users

  • John E. FiskEmail author
  • Catharine Montgomery
  • Michelle Wareing
  • Philip N. Murphy
Original Investigation



Previous research has shown that ecstasy users are impaired in thinking and reasoning. The present study sought to explore the possibility that syllogistic reasoning errors in ecstasy users were due to an inability to construct a model of the premises due to working memory limitations.


Twenty-nine ecstasy users and 25 nonecstasy user controls completed abstract syllogistic reasoning problems varying in difficulty. Pairs of premises were provided, and participants were required to generate conclusions that followed necessarily from them.


On the easier problems, both groups performed at well above chance although nonusers achieved significantly more correct responses. Consistent with existing research, on the more difficult problems, errors by nonusers were characterised by incorrect conclusions suggesting that while nonusers have the working memory capacity to construct a single model of the premises, this is not an exhaustive representation and usually results in an erroneous conclusion. On the other hand, for all problem types, ecstasy users, rather than produce incorrect responses, were more likely to fail to generate a conclusion.


The present results are consistent with the possibility that ecstasy users with their reduced working memory capacity may experience difficulty in constructing even a single model of the premises. While this might be attributable to the effects of 3,4-methlylenedioxymethamphetamine neurotoxicity, many of the ecstasy users in the present study were polydrug users. Thus, the possibility that other drugs including cannabis and cocaine might contribute to the present results cannot be excluded.


Cocaine Incorrect Response Ecstasy Work Memory Capacity Stereotype Threat 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Cole J, Sumnall H, Grob C (2002) Sorted: ecstasy facts and fiction. Psychologist 15:464–467Google Scholar
  2. Croft RJ, Mackay AJ, Mills ATD, Gruzelier JGH (2001) The relative contributions of ecstasy and cannabis to cognitive impairment. Psychopharmacology 153:373–379CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Croizet JC, Despres G, Gauzins ME, Huguet P, Leyens JP, Meot A (2004) Stereotype threat undermines intellectual performance by triggering a disruptive mental load. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 30:721–731CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Dafters RI, Hoshi R, Talbot AC (2004) Contribution of cannabis and MDMA (“ecstasy”) to cognitive changes in long term polydrug users. Psychopharmacology 173:405–410CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Evans JSBT, Handley SJ, Harper CNJ, Johnson-Laird PN (1999) Reasoning about necessity and possibility: a test of the mental model theory of deduction. J Exper Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 25:1495–1513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fisk JE, Sharp C (2002) Syllogistic reasoning and cognitive ageing. Q J Exp Psychol 55A:1273–1293Google Scholar
  7. Fisk JE, Sharp C (2004) Age-related impairment in executive functioning: updating, inhibition, shifting, and access. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 26:874–890PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fisk JE, Montgomery C, Murphy P, Wareing M (2004) Evidence of executive deficits among users of MDMA (Ecstasy). Br J Psychol 95:457–466CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Ford M (1995) Two modes of mental representation and problem solution in syllogistic reasoning. Cognition 54:1–71PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fox HC, McLean A, Turner JJD, Parrott AC, Rogers R, Sahakian BJ (2002) Neuropsychological evidence of a relatively selective profile of temporal dysfunction in drug-free MDMA (“ecstasy”) polydrug users. Psychopharmacology 162:203–214CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Gilhooly KJ, Logie RH, Wynn V (1999) Syllogistic reasoning tasks, working memory and skill. Eur J Cogn Psychol 11:473–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gilinsky AS, Judd BB (1994) Working memory and bias in reasoning across the life span. Psychol Aging 9:356–371CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Goel V, Buchel C, Frith C, Dolan RJ (2000) Dissociation of mechanisms underlying syllogistic reasoning. NeuroImage 12:504–514CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gouzoulis-Mayfrank E, Daumann J, Tuchtenhagen F, Pelz S, Becker S, Kunert HJ, Fimm B, Sass H (2000) Impaired cognitive performance in drug-free recreational ecstasy (MDMA) users. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 68:719–725CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gouzoulis-Mayfrank E, Fischermann T, Rezk M, Thimm B, Hensen G, Daumann J (in press) Memory performance in polyvalent MDMA (ecstasy) users who continue or discontinue MDMA use. Drug Alcohol DependGoogle Scholar
  16. Handley SJ, Dennis I, Evans JSBT, Capon A (2000) Individual differences and the search for counterexamples in syllogistic reasoning. In: Schaeken W, De Vooght G, Vandierendonck A, d'Ydewalle G (eds) Deductive reasoning and strategies. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJGoogle Scholar
  17. Howell DC (1997) Statistical methods for psychology, 4th edn. Duxbury, Belmont, CAGoogle Scholar
  18. Inhelder B, Piaget J (1958) The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Johnson-Laird PN (1983) Mental models. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  20. Kokis JV, Macpherson R, Toplak ME, West RF, Stanovich KE (2002) Heuristic and analytic processing: age trends and associations with cognitive ability and cognitive styles. J Exp Child Psych 83:26–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McCann UD, Szabo Z, Scheffel U, Dannals RF, Ricaurte GA (1998) Positron emission tomographic evidence of toxic effect of MDMA (‘ecstasy’) on brain serotonin neurons in human beings. Lancet 352(9138):1433–1437CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. McCann UD, Mertl M, Eligulashvili V, Ricaurte GA (1999) Cognitive performance in (±) 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) users: a controlled study. Psychopharmacology 143:417–425CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Miyake A, Friedman NP, Emerson MJ, Witzki AH, Howerter A, Wager TD (2000) The unity and diversity of executive functions, and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: a latent variable analysis. Cogn Psychol 41:49–100CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Montgomery C, Fisk JE, Newcombe R, Murphy PN (2005) The differential effects of MDMA (“ecstasy”) on executive components: shifting, inhibition, updating and access to semantic memory. (submitted for publication)Google Scholar
  25. Montgomery C, Fisk JE, Newcombe R, Wareing M, Murphy P (in press) Syllogistic reasoning performance in MDMA (Ecstasy) users. Exp Clin PsychopharmacolGoogle Scholar
  26. Morgan MJ (1999) Memory deficits associated with recreational use of “ecstasy” (MDMA). Psychopharmacology 141:30–36CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Morgan MJ (2000) Ecstasy (MDMA): a review of its possible persistent psychological effects. Psychopharmacology 152:230–248CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Newstead SE, Handley SJ, Buck E (1999) Falsifying mental models: testing the predictions of theories of syllogistic reasoning. Mem Cogn 27:344–354Google Scholar
  29. Newstead SE, Thompson VA, Handley SJ (2002) Generating alternatives: a key component in human reasoning? Mem Cogn 30:129–137Google Scholar
  30. Parrott AC, Lasky J (1998) Ecstasy (MDMA) effects upon mood and cognition: before, during and after a Saturday night dance. Psychopharmacology 139:261–268CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Piburn MD (1990) Reasoning about logical propositions and success in science. J Res Sci Teach 27:887–900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Raven J, Raven JC, Court JH (1998) Manual for Raven's progressive matrices and vocabulary scales. Oxford Psychologists Press, Oxford, UKGoogle Scholar
  33. Reneman L, Majoie CB, Flick H, den Heeten GJ (2002a) Reduced N-acetylaspartate levels in the frontal cortex of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) users: preliminary results. Am J Neuroradiol 23:231–237PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Reneman L, Endert E, de Bruin K, Lavalaye J, Feenstra MG, de Wolff F, Booij J (2002b) The acute and chronic effects of MDMA (‘ecstasy’) on cortical 5-HT 2A receptors in rat and human brain. Neuropsychopharmacology 26:387–396CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Rodgers J (2000) Cognitive performance amongst recreational users of “ecstasy”. Psychopharmacology 151:19–24CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Simon NG, Mattick RP (2002) The impact of regular ecstasy use on memory function. Addiction 97:1523–1529CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Solowij N, Hall W, Lee N (1992) Recreational MDMA use in Sydney: a profile of ecstasy users and their experiences with the drug. Br J Addict 87:1161–1172PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stanovich KE, West RF (1998) Who uses base rates and P(D|∼H)? An analysis of individual differences. Mem Cogn 26:161–179Google Scholar
  39. Tabachnick BG, Fidell LS (2001) Using multivariate statistics, 4th edn. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA, USAGoogle Scholar
  40. Wareing M (2005) Working memory and executive deficits among MDMA (‘ecstasy’) users. Unpublished Ph.D. thesisGoogle Scholar
  41. Wareing M, Fisk JE, Murphy P (2002) Little evidence for central executive impairment among light/moderate users of MDMA. Proc Br Psychol Soc 10:107Google Scholar
  42. Wareing M, Fisk JE, Murphy P Montgomery C (2004a) Verbal working memory deficits in current and previous users of MDMA. Hum Psychopharmacol 19:225–234CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Wareing M, Murphy P, Fisk JE (2004b) Visuospatial memory impairments in users of MDMA (‘ecstasy’). Psychopharmacology 173:391–397CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Watters JJ, English LD (1995) Children's application of simultaneous and successive processing in inductive and deductive reasoning problems: implications for developing scientific reasoning skills. J Res Sci Teach 32:699–714CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • John E. Fisk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catharine Montgomery
    • 1
  • Michelle Wareing
    • 2
  • Philip N. Murphy
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.Edge Hill College of Higher EducationLancashireUK

Personalised recommendations