Ecstasy, or MDMA, is a powerful synthetic stimulant and psychedelic made popular in the 70s and 80s as a way for psychiatrists to treat patients with PTSD. Ecstasy produces feelings of euphoria, empathy and increased energy as well as sensory hallucinations. Today it has become a popular recreational drug used especially in nightclubs, dance festivals and raves. At a 2013 electronic dance music festival in NYC, 55% of the patients who needed medical attention admitted to using a synthetic MDMA.3 It is banned by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration because it does not have any medicinal value.
Ecstasy is often known as the slang term Molly, though this only refers to the pure crystalline powder form. Ecstasy in any form is usually taken orally in pills, capsules or tablets and lasts around 3 to 6 hours.1 The effects of ecstasy can be dangerous when mixed with other substances like alcohol, cocaine or methamphetamine.
Recreational users often mix ecstasy with other drugs to get different results without knowing the high possibility of overdose. Other stimulants and cathinones are typically mixed with the pure form or tablets of ecstasy.
Ecstasy is considered a social drug because of the way it affects the mood and personality. It also suppresses appetite and fatigue, allowing the user to be alert for long periods of time. Ecstasy increases the activity of three brain neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. The release of certain hormones cause the feelings of love, trust, arousal and empathy associated with the drug. When the rush is over, the euphoria is replaced by feelings of confusion, depression, sleep problems and anxiety. Some people show symptoms of withdrawal after taking the drug for long periods of time.
The physical effects of ecstasy are similar to other stimulants like cocaine. Some of these effects include:
When consumed, ecstasy is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and once there the body has difficulty breaking it down. This is the main cause of high blood pressure in ecstasy users. The symptoms of memory loss and a reduction in mental ability can last for long periods of time after taking ecstasy. There is a large potential for people on ecstasy to engage in dangerous behaviors during this time such as driving and performing skilled activities without knowing they are still under the effects of the drug.
Recreational users of the drug often do not eat or sleep for long spans of time because it suppresses their appetites and desire to sleep. This can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, hypertension and heart failure. Users of ecstasy frequently engage in vigorous physical activity.
Ecstasy abuse can lead to an overdose and sometimes death from high blood pressure, panic attacks, faintness and seizures.
Ecstasy is a popular recreational drug because of the way it positively affects the user’s mood. This leads people to take ecstasy multiple times once the effects have worn off and to develop a dependence to it. Ecstasy’s effects on brain chemistry are similar to that of dangerous drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. Although there is not much evidence that suggests that ecstasy is addictive, this similarity (as well as reports of withdrawal symptoms, repeated use and diminished tolerance) leads professionals to believe that ecstasy has addictive qualities.
There are no treatment plans or medications that are specifically used to treat a dependence to ecstasy but behavioral interventions and support groups are helpful. Support groups with 12-step programs target specific triggers and behaviors that lead a person to participate in dangerous drugs and finds solutions for avoiding them.
To find a support system in your area, call SAMHSA’s National helpline at 1-800-622-HELP or use the services locator on their website. For more guidance, visit ecstasy addiction treatment information.