Q. A friend told me that taking the drug ecstasy could lower serotonin levels and eventually contribute to depression. Have you heard anything about that?

A. It appears that low serotonin levels are associated with depression. Experiments with nonhuman primates have shown that ecstasy can damage brain serotonin neurons at dosages similar to those taken recreationally by humans.

A report was recently published in a British medical journal (Lancet 1998, Oct 31) related to ecstasy use in humans. In the study, PET (positron emission tomography) scans were used to evaluate the effects of ecstasy on serotonin neurons in human brains.

Results indicated that compared with nonusers, former ecstasy users had decreases in serotonin transporter binding, indicating global and regional damage to serotonin neurons. The authors suggest that the possible consequences of taking ecstasy may include neuropsychiatric disorders such as anxiety, memory disturbance, and depression. This is just one more reason for avoiding use of so-called street drugs.