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A new Israeli study warns that the perception of Ecstasy as a light drug is without foundation, and that at least seven victims of the hallucinogenic are treated in Israeli hospitals every month.

The study was completed as a joint project between Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, the Gertner Institute at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, the national toxicology center at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the Tel Aviv municipality. It was led by Dr. Pini Halperin, head of emergency medicine at Ichilov.

The researchers traced and documented Ecstasy users in emergency rooms at Ichilov, Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, and Yoseftal Medical Center in Eilat, and analyzed data provided by the national toxicology center. The information gathered dates back to August 2002 to February 2003, and will be published in a toxicology journal later this month.

The 52 patients observed by the study were aged 15 to 44, mostly men (63 percent ); 20 percent of them were under the age of 31. The drug Ecstasy was found to be consumed in clubs (29 percent ), at home (19 percent ), at private parties (15 percent ), at open parties (12 percent ), in suicide attempts (4 percent ) or other occasions (21 percent ). Most of the patients resided in urban areas (81 percent ) - especially in big cities (51 percent ) or in Eilat (13 percent ).

A majority of the patients in the study appear to have been hospitalized in the north (12 at Rambam and one at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya ) and the south (11 at Soroka, 10 at Yoseftal and five at Barzilai ).

Ecstasy, consisting of methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, was most actively consumed in the summer months, beginning in August (16 casualties ), September (eight ) and October (10 ). Divided by weekdays, patients appear to begin coming in on Wednesday (11 percent ), and then Friday (27 percent ) and Saturday (25 percent ).

Twenty-two of the patients reported taking a combination of drugs.

According to the study, the patients' complaints included reduced motor skills (38 percent ), anxiety (29 percent ), disorientation (25 percent ), shivering (23 percent ), headaches (19 percent ), mood swings (19 percent ) and psychotic episodes (17 percent ). More serious effects included hyperthermia (six patients ), coma (four patients ) and low sodium (six patients ).