7319 Ecstacy tablets found in a Rosetenville house after police raided the house and found R10 million worth of Mandrax and Ecstacy tablets which had been manufactured in a store room off the garage. Rosettenville south of Johannesburg. 191010 - Picture: Jennifer Bruce

London - Taking ecstasy – even in relatively small amounts – can damage memory, scientists have warned.

Worryingly, the memory lapses are similar to those that occur in the early onset of dementia.

Even ten pills a year – less than one a month – caused problems, says the journal Addiction.

Ecstasy, also known by its chemical name MDMA, is a Class A drug. But there are disagreements over how dangerous it is.

Government chief drugs advisor Professor David Nutt was fired three years ago after claiming taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse.

Although the drug’s effects on memory have been studied before, results have been muddied by the possibility that users already had memory problems.

To avoid this, researchers from the University of Cologne focused on young people who had tried the drug in the past and expected to use it more in future.

They were tested on their memory, learning, brain processing speed and attention at the start of the study and a year on.

At the end of a year, 23 had become regular ecstasy users, having taken between ten and 62 ecstasy pills since the start of the study. Those who had become regular users showed a clear deterioration in episodic memory in comparison with the others.

This memory details personal experiences, combining information about what happened with when and where – such as remembering not only the last film you saw but who you went with and where you sat.

Lapses in it are seen as an indicator of the first stages of dementia.

The researchers said even low numbers of pills caused memory problems and, importantly, users of the drug may not realise their brain is being affected until the damage is done. - Daily Mail