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Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

What is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is a synthetic mind-altering drug that acts as a psychedelic (hallucinogen), stimulant, and empathogen. It is commonly known by its scientific name 3,4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (oft abbreviated to MDMA), and its street name “Molly” (short/ slang for “molecular”). Due to its chemical makeup, Ecstasy alters both mood and perception – distorting one’s sense of reality and time, and inducing sensations of alertness, energy, ecstasy (hence its name), and increased closeness and emotional warmth. [1]

Aside from “Molly”, Ecstasy has several nicknames, including:

  • Beans
  • Brownies
  • Cowies
  • Crystal
  • Dizzle
  • Dolphins
  • E
  • Love Drug
  • MD
  • Mandy
  • Mitsubishis
  • Pills
  • Pink Superman
  • Rolexs
  • Superman
  • Xtc [2]

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Avenues Recovery, experts in addiction treatment, presents a comprehensive ecstasy guide.

History of the Ecstasy Drug

Ecstasy was first developed in 1912 by German chemist Anton Kollisch, while working for Merck - a giant veterinary pharmaceutical company headquartered in Darmstadt, Germany. Originally named “Methylsafrylaminc”, Ecstasy was believed to be beneficial in treating psychological conditions such as PTSD[3] and depression, and in safely amalgamating medications which control bleeding. However, it never underwent formal clinical testing and was never approved by the FDA as a drug whose benefits outweighed its risks. At best, it had a scant following among a small group of open-minded psychiatrists.

Ecstasy was accidentally re-discovered in the 1970s by an eccentric psychopharmacologist named Alexander Shulgin, renowned for creating the psychedelic drug Pink 2C-B/ Pink Cocaine (Contrary to the wildly popular belief that it was Shulgin who fathered MDMA, he merely stumbled into it in the course of his research and introduced it to West Coast psychotherapists.[5]) Once Ecstasy became more widely known, it rapidly devolved into a popular party drug used in bars, nightclubs and social venues. Today, it is synonymous with the 1980’s nightlife, electronic music festivals, and rave (nightlong dance party) culture.

Ecstasy remains a mainstay of the recreational drug arena, favored particularly among adolescents and college students. Its limited medical use, harmful effects and high abuse potential have prompted the DEA to label it as a Schedule I substance, deeming it illegal.

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How do Ecstasy pills work?

As mentioned previously, MDMA is a hallucinogen, stimulant, and empathogen. It works primarily by triggering the release of three neurotransmitters (brain chemicals): Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Each acts differently and is responsible for another of the trademark effects of Ecstasy.

Chemical Effect on Body Manifestation in Ecstasy
Dopamine Increases energy and reinforces pleasure – inducing behaviors (affects reward system) Has stimulant effect – increases energy and alertness. Also causes addiction
Norepinephrine Increases heart rate and blood pressure Heightens alertness and causes tingling sensation
Serotonin Impacts mood, appetite, sleep, arousal, and trust Induces euphoria and increases feelings of closeness, trust and empathy[1]

Succinctly put, individuals under the influence of Ecstasy experience altered perceptions and sensations and increased energy, empathy, and pleasure. This often prompts irresponsible and risky behaviors which the individual would not engage in otherwise, with potentially detrimental consequences.

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How is Ecstasy used?

Ecstasy is available in a variety of forms, including tablet, capsule, powder and liquid. The most popular method of ingestion by far is via swallowing a tablet, although people have reported smoking, snorting, injecting, licking, dissolving, and parachuting (wrapping in a tissue and swallowing whole).[6] As with most drugs, the method of ingestion strongly impacts the amount of time it will take for the effects of the drug to be felt. Orally ingested drugs generally take the longest to have an effect since they must traverse the entire digestive system before reaching the brain, but they also remain in effect for the longest amount of time.[7]

A tablet is the both the most popular and the riskiest method of consumption, since tablets do not come in one uniform or standardized concentration. One can therefore never be sure of the potency of the dose they have taken until they ingest it and experience its full effects. Additionally, tablets and capsules which claim to be pure MDMA are very often laced with other powerful drugs such as Meth, Ketamine, Caffeine, Heroin, and Cocaine. These contaminant drugs can react negatively with each other and amplify the drugs’ effects well beyond the intention of the user.

A common and dangerous practice among Ecstasy tablet users is “stacking” – swallowing three or more pills at once – and “piggybacking” – taking a series of pills over a short amount of time. Both behaviors are done to intensify and prolong the effects of the drug, and both can easily lead to overdose.[8]

Another very popular method of ingestion is snorting MDMA in its pure crystalline powder form. Snorting is viewed as a fast and effective method of getting the drug into your system, since the fine, blood-vessel rich mucous membranes in the nose will absorb the chemicals  immediately and allow them to directly enter the bloodstream. However, snorting poses a great risk of permanently damaging the delicate membranes of the nose, leaving one with perpetual nosebleeds and postnasal drip. [9]

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What does Ecstasy look, smell and taste like?

As discussed, Ecstasy can be found in many different forms. The most prevalent is tablets, which come in virtually every shape and color. Ecstasy pills can be round, square, molded into unique shapes, and be found in every shade of the rainbow. They may bear designs such as smiles, crowns, stars, diamonds, lips etc., or the manufacturing company’s logo.

Ecstasy can also be found in its pure crystalline powder form, sometimes concentrated into capsules. It appears as a pure, fine white powder and is most often used by those who favor snorting, parachuting, licking and dissolving.

How does MDMA taste?

Whichever form it is in, ecstasy/MDMA tastes bitter and unpleasant.

Although all terms are used interchangeably in this article, “Ecstasy” is the name most often used in reference to the tablet/ pill form, while “MDMA”/ “Molly” refers specifically to the powder form of the drug.

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What are the withdrawal and side effects of Ecstasy?

Alongside the initial euphoria, energy and heightened emotion that it produces, MDMA has some immediate psychological effects. Users may experience impaired judgement, confusion, anxiety and hallucinations after their first dose.

In addition, Ecstasy has a variety of negative short-term and long-term physical effects. Withdrawal begins soon after the drug wears off and can cause:

  • Hyperthermia
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Involuntary clenching/ grinding of the teeth
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

If the Ecstasy has been contaminated with any adulterant drugs, as is very common, it may lead to any number of unexpected, adverse side effects.

For up to a week after use of MDMA, one may experience continued withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Impulsive/ aggressive behavior[10]

Aside from its direct physical effects, because it is both a stimulant and hallucinogen, Ecstasy causes its users to see things that do not exist and become oblivious of their physical limitations. This leads to dangerous and irresponsible conduct, such as intentionally crashing cars, biting glass, hitting one’s head hard against walls, and other wild behaviors. When taken at dance parties, Ecstasy prompts its victims to dance uncontrollably and exert themselves far beyond their endurance. Ecstasy users are unaware that they have become overheated and dehydrated, and can subsequently faint and even die of heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and even heart attack.

When used consistently for an extended period of time, Ecstasy has been proven to cause debilitating chronic health conditions, such as:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Kidney and liver failure
  • Kidney, liver and brain damage
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Severe depression and anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Shortened attention span
  • Psychosis[11]

It is overwhelmingly clear that the risks and pitfalls of Ecstasy far, far outweigh any momentary pleasure it may offer. Before considering experimenting, stop and think long and hard about whether it is worthwhile to upend your life for the sake of one night.

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Can one overdose on or become addicted to Ecstasy?

One of the main arguments of drug dealers and exposed adolescents is that Ecstasy is a relatively harmless drug with a low addictive potential.

Such claims are false. Research and testimonies have shown that after the body’s first exposure to Ecstasy, it becomes greatly desensitized to it in a short amount of time. Understandably, users seeking to replicate their previous euphoria will have to begin taking increasingly larger doses in order to experience even a fraction of the high they did last time. People have reported swallowing as much as many as nine to ten pills in a go in a futile attempt to just feel anything. Such behavior can lead directly to overdose.

Many users – especially those at nightclubs and similar social venues – enhance the effects of Ecstasy with alcohol. Drinking and using simultaneously raises the risks and chances of overdose to entirely new levels, especially when considering the powerful contaminant drugs almost always mixed into purportedly pure MDMA. Ecstasy and alcohol are a deadly combination and have led to overdose and loss of consciousness on countless occasions.

Additionally, the depression and paranoia which accompany Ecstasy withdrawal are so crippling that users find themselves scrambling to pop more pills the moment the previous dose wears off. They are so fearful of landing in their self -created prison of fear and pain that sobriety becomes unbearable; they must be under the influence just to feel “normal”. Unfortunately, one can progress from simple experimentation to severe dependence in a very, very short amount of time.

If you or a loved one is struggling with Ecstasy or any other substance use disorder, don’t suffer in silence. Help is available, and recovery is always possible! Reach out to Avenues Recovery to find out how we can help you, and begin your journey home today.

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