Ecstasy is an illegal synthetic drug similar to methamphetamine and mescaline. It is a stimulant and powerful psychedelic that causes hallucinations. Notable hallucinatory effects are heightened sensory perception, a distorted sense of time and distance, and blurred vision. Ecstasy also amplifies the enjoyment of tactile experiences. Ecstasy is an empathogen, meaning it produces intense feelings of empathy for others and connection to them. This is why it is sometimes called the "love drug." It is also described as a "designer drug," because it was created for recreational purposes. Ecstasy was originally popular as a "party drug" too, as it produces increased energy and keeps people awake, and also boosts confidence.
The chemical name of ecstasy is 3, 4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine, conveniently shortened to MDMA, ecstasy, or "molly" in everyday language. Ecstasy use is popular primarily among teenagers and young adults. MDMA is an illegal drug classed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, because of its high potential for abuse, and absence of recognized medical use in the United States.
Ecstasy is often cut or laced with other substances, which can put users at increased risk of abuse.
Ecstasy exists mainly as pills, or ecstasy tablets which are often brightly colored for visual appeal, and in powder form. The crystalline powder (molly) is supposedly "purer," and is either snorted or swallowed as a capsule.
MDMA is frequently abused in various ways: by taking several tablets at the same time (known as "stacking"), by taking several doses close together over a short space of time ("piggybacking"), or by snorting ecstasy and taking LSD simultaneously for increased psychedelic effects.
Users often take ecstasy pills with other drugs, such as marijuana or alcohol.
Ecstasy is absorbed, and the drug reaches the brain more rapidly, through the membranes of the nasal passages rather than through the digestive tract. When swallowed, the effects of ecstasy kick in anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes later. When snorting MDMA, users experience a more rapid, intense peak and more intense effects overall, but these rewarding effects wear off more quickly also.
When molly is mixed with other substances or drugs, as is often the case, snorting MDMA causes these drugs to reach the brain quicker too. As a result, these drugs also become more potent than when ingested orally.
Taking ecstasy causes the brain to become flooded with "feel good" neurotransmitters, primarily serotonin, and this causes the euphoria and increased sensory perception users seek. Snorting MDMA amplifies this effect on the central nervous system.
Ecstasy use produces characteristic negative side effects, which can be anything from mildly unpleasant to life-threatening. Common signs of using ecstasy include:
Apart from the side effects of snorting MDMA, there are negative consequences to a person's health on physical, mental, and behavioral levels. Physically, a person may experience:
The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that because MDMA causes a loss of inhibitions, feelings of closeness and intimacy, and in some cases sexual arousal, there is a risk of unsafe sexual behavior. This can result in contracting or transmitting diseases like Hepatitis C or HIV.
Serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain help regulate moods and emotions. They are also linked to such functions as memory retention and learning new skills. Negative effects of MDMA include interference with these functions. A drug fact sheet created by the Drug Enforcement Administration states: "Clinical studies suggest that MDMA
may increase the risk of long-term, perhaps permanent, problems with memory and learning."
A major risk to brain health that the deregulation of serotonin levels can cause is serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. Increased serotonin may cause euphoria and other pleasant feelings, but excess serotonin hampers the brain's ability to send essential signals to the body. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
More serious symptoms are:
Other risks include overdosing on the drug and MDMA addiction.
High doses of ecstasy can prove too much for a person's body to deal with. They will then suffer the effects of an MDMA overdose, which can potentially be fatal and is a genuine medical emergency. One of the first things that such high doses can disrupt is the body's ability to regulate body temperature. This can cause:
On the question of whether or not MDMA is addictive, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that research results vary. One relatively common opinion on the question is that addiction to ecstasy is more mental and emotional than physical. This is because although there are negative side effects, there are no obvious withdrawal symptoms following the use of the drug.
The issue is made more complicated by the fact that users often take other substances or alcohol at the same time. A result of reduced drug purity due to the addition of other drugs, particularly ecstasy pills or tablets, means that a problematic drug use habit can develop, caused by the combined use of all of these substances. Users may become hooked on the experience as a whole, without being able to confidently identify the substance at the root of their drug abuse. Regardless of this, using multiple drugs simultaneously places people at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders.
Nevertheless, some individuals do report addiction-like symptoms, beginning with the inability to stop taking ecstasy despite the desire to do so and experiencing adverse effects. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
One of the after-effects of MDMA is the comedown or "crash" that follows its use. When the unnaturally, and indeed inordinately, high levels of serotonin induced by the drug abruptly drop drastically, a person can be left feeling empty, depressed, and miserable. They experience:
Certain behaviors, which are common to substance abuse in general, can indicate that however you choose to label a person's use of molly, ecstasy pills, or a combination of substances, it has become problematic. These include:
While there is no addiction treatment specific to MDMA alone, if any of the above signs are present, seeking out an addiction treatment specialist who can provide medical advice is highly recommended.
There is currently no FDA-approved medication to support the treatment process for ecstasy addiction. Behavioral therapies, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are the primary approach to helping people not only quit their substance abuse habits but also achieve long-term recovery.
Behavioral interventions aim to increase a person's self-awareness around their use of drugs and what triggers it. They acquire new thinking patterns and learn new strategies to respond to life's challenges.
As one of the country's most trusted and well-respected drug and alcohol treatment centers, we at Cirque Lodge offer advanced in-patient treatment programs for all kinds of addiction and substance abuse. Nestled in the stunning Rocky Mountains of Utah, our center is the perfect place to address mental health concerns, and begin the journey of healing and recovery. Reach out to us to find out how we can help.