Effects of ecstasy/polydrug use on memory for associative information

Gallagher, Dennis T., Fisk, John orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2981-0870, Montgomery, Catharine, Judge, Jeannie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4029-6876, Robinson, Sarita Jane orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4237-5412 and Taylor, Paul John orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9999-8397 (2012) Effects of ecstasy/polydrug use on memory for associative information. Psychopharmacology, 222 (4). pp. 579-591. ISSN 0033-3158

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-012-2652-x


Associative learning underpins behaviours that are fundamental to the everyday functioning of the individual. Evidence pointing to learning deficits in recreational drug users merits further examination.

A word pair learning task was administered to examine associative learning processes in ecstasy/polydrug users.

After assignment to either single or divided attention conditions, 44 ecstasy/polydrug users and 48 non-users were presented with 80 word pairs at encoding. Following this, four types of stimuli were presented at the recognition phase: the words as originally paired (old pairs), previously presented words in different pairings (conjunction pairs), old words paired with new words, and pairs of new words (not presented previously). The task was to identify which of the stimuli were intact old pairs.

Ecstasy/ploydrug users produced significantly more false-positive responses overall compared to non-users. Increased long-term frequency of ecstasy use was positively associated with the propensity to produce false-positive responses. It was also associated with a more liberal signal detection theory decision criterion value. Measures of long term and recent cannabis use were also associated with these same word pair learning outcome measures. Conjunction word pairs, irrespective of drug use, generated the highest level of false-positive responses and significantly more false-positive responses were made in the divided attention condition compared to the single attention condition.

Overall, the results suggest that long-term ecstasy exposure may induce a deficit in associative learning and this may be in part a consequence of users adopting a more liberal decision criterion value.

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