Heritability of lifetime ecstasy use

C.J.H. Verweij, Jorien L Treur, Annabel Vreeker, Tibor M Brunt, Gonneke Willemsen, Dorret I Boomsma, Jacqueline M Vink

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BACKGROUND: Ecstasy is a widely used psychoactive drug that users often take because they experience positive effects such as increased euphoria, sociability, elevated mood, and heightened sensations. Ecstasy use is not harmless and several immediate and long term side effects have been identified. Lifetime ecstasy use is likely to be partly influenced by genetic factors, but no twin study has determined the heritability. Here, we apply a classical twin design to a large sample of twins and siblings to estimate the heritability of lifetime ecstasy use.

METHODS: The sample comprised 8500 twins and siblings aged between 18 and 45 years from 5402 families registered at the Netherlands Twin Registry. In 2013-2014 participants filled out a questionnaire including a question whether they had ever used ecstasy. We used the classical twin design to partition the individual differences in liability to ecstasy use into that due to genetic, shared environmental, and residual components.

RESULTS: Overall, 10.4% of the sample had used ecstasy during their lifetime, with a somewhat higher prevalence in males than females. Twin modelling indicated that individual differences in liability to lifetime ecstasy use are for 74% due to genetic differences between individuals, whereas shared environmental and residual factors explain a small proportion of its liability (5% and 21%, respectively). Although heritability estimates appeared to be higher for females than males, this difference was not significant.

CONCLUSIONS: Lifetime ecstasy use is a highly heritable trait, which indicates that some people are genetically more vulnerable to start using ecstasy than others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-69
Number of pages4
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Early online date15 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


We warmly thank the Netherlands Twin Register participants whose data we analysed in this study. KJHV is supported in part by a 2014 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation . JMV, JLT, and the data collection of the 2013–2014 survey of the NTR are supported by ERC Starting Grant ‘Beyond the Genetics of Addiction’ , grant number 284167 (PI: JMV). DIB acknowledges the KNAW Academy Professor Award (PAH/6635). Data collection and zygosity typing was also supported by grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research [ NWO-MagW 480-04-004 ; Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI-NL) ] and the Avera Institute, Sioux Falls, South Dakota (USA) .

FundersFunder number
Avera Institute
Brain and Behavior Research Foundation
National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression
European Research Council284167
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk OnderzoekNWO-MagW 480-04-004


    • Journal Article

    Cohort Studies

    • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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