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While users of the drug "ecstasy" say it melts inhibitions and makes them love one another, it can also cause permanent brain damage, at least in animals, scientists say.

Researchers' concern about ecstasy, chemically known as MDMA, also extends to an increasingly popular diet drug, fenfluramine.George Ricaurte and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report in the August issue of the Journal of Neuroscience that rats and squirrel monkeys showed long-term changes in brain circuitry after receiving MDMA. The drug appeared to affect brain centers involved in emotion, learning, memory and other functions.

Since the appetite suppressant fenfluramine is chemically related to MDMA, scientists are concerned that it may affect the brain in similar ways. The researchers are trying to find out whether the drugs' long-term effects in animals also occur in humans.

- Richard Saltus