DOCTORS from London University have revealed details of what they believe is the largest amount of ecstasy ever consumed by a single person.
Consultants at the addiction centre at St George's Medical School have published a case report of a man estimated to have taken 40,000 pills of MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, over nine years. The heaviest previous lifetime intake on record is 2000 pills.
Although the man, now 37, stopped taking the drug seven years ago, he still suffers from severe physical and mental health side-effects, including extreme memory problems, paranoia, hallucinations and depression.
He also suffers from painful muscle rigidity around his neck and jaw that often prevents him from opening his mouth. The doctors believe many of these afflictions could be permanent.
The man, referred to only as Mr A in the report in the scientific journal Psychosomatics, started using ecstasy at 21. For the first two years his use was an average of five pills a weekend.
Gradually this rose until he was taking 3˝ pills a day. At the peak he was taking an estimated 25 pills a day for four years. After several severe collapses at parties he decided to stop taking ecstasy.
For several months he still felt he was under the influence of the drug, despite being bedridden.
His condition deteriorated and he began to experience recurrent tunnel vision and other problems including hallucinations, paranoia and muscle rigidity.
"He was having trouble functioning in everyday life," said Dr Christos Kouimtsidis, a consultant psychiatrist at St George's Medical School, who treated him for five months.
The doctors discovered the man was suffering from severe short-term memory problems of a type usually only seen in lifetime alcoholics.
Evaluating the full extent of his condition was difficult because his concentration was so impaired he was unable to follow the simple tasks involved in the test.
"This was an exceptional case," Dr Kouimtsidis said. "His long-term memory was fine, but he could not remember day-to-day things - the time, the day, what was in his supermarket trolley.
"More worryingly, he did not seem aware himself that he had these memory problems."
With no mental illness in his family and no earlier psychiatric history, the doctors concluded his unique condition was a direct result of his intense ecstasy use.
British statistics reflect a drop in the number of ecstasy related deaths. In 2002 there were 78. In 2003 that fell to 48, and the figure is believed to have dropped further in the last two years. On the continent ecstasy related deaths remain rare, with 26 reported across in 2004, compared with Britain's average of 40 a year. This disparity may be due in part to better British recording procedures.
A study of the availability and use of ecstasy, published this week in the British Journal of Psychopharmacology, shows young Britons are still by far the leading consumers of MDMA in Europe and the second largest worldwide, after Australia.