Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Sharon Farntrog
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
October 30, 2023

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. What is Ecstasy?
  2. History of the Ecstasy Drug
  3. Effects of Ecstasy
  4. What Does Ecstasy Look Like?
  5. How is Ecstasy Used?
  6. Can You Snort Molly?
  7. What are Common Ecstasy Symptoms?
  8. What are the Long-term Effects of Ecstasy Use?
  9. Can you Overdose on 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 the body quickly becomes desensitized after its first exposure to Ecstasy. Understandably, users seeking to replicate their previous euphoria will begin taking increasingly larger doses to experience even a fraction of the high they did last time. People have reported swallowing as many as nine to ten pills at once in a futile attempt to feel something.

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 (MDMA) and its street name “Molly” (slang for “molecular”). Due to its chemical makeup, Ecstasy alters both mood and perception. The drug distorts one’s sense of reality and time and induces sensations of alertness, energy, ecstasy, and increased closeness and emotional warmth.

Aside from “Molly”, there are multiple Ecstasy nicknames:

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

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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 and depression, and in safely amalgamating medications that 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. 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. 

According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse report, in 2021, 0.8% of people aged 12 or older reported using Ecstasy in the past year. In 2022, an estimated 0.6% of 8th graders, 0.7% of 10th graders, and 1.4% of 12th graders reported using Ecstasy. 

MDMA’s limited medical use, harmful effects, and high abuse potential have prompted the DEA to label it as a Schedule I substance, deeming it illegal.

Effects of Ecstasy

Individuals under the influence of Ecstasy experience altered perceptions and sensations, plus increased energy, empathy, and pleasure. This often prompts irresponsible and risky behaviors that the individual would normally not engage in, leading to potentially detrimental consequences.

As mentioned, 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.

ChemicalEffect on BodyManifestation in Ecstasy
DopamineIncreases energy and reinforces pleasure – inducing behaviors (affects reward system)Has stimulant effect – increases energy and alertness. Also causes addiction
NorepinephrineIncreases heart rate and blood pressureHeightens alertness and causes tingling sensation
SerotoninImpacts mood, appetite, sleep, arousal, and trustInduces euphoria and increases feelings of closeness, trust and empathy

What Does Ecstasy Look Like?

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 colored in every shade of the rainbow. They are often imprinted with designs such as smiles, crowns, stars, diamonds, lips, etc., or the manufacturing company’s logo.

When found in its pure crystalline powder form, Ecstasy is usually referred to as “Molly”. Sometimes concentrated into capsules, Molly appears as a pure, fine white powder and is most often used by those who favor snorting, parachuting, licking, and dissolving.

What does Molly/Ecstasy/MDMA taste like? Most users admit to experiencing a bitter and unpleasant taste.

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How is Ecstasy Used?

Ecstasy is available in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, powder, and liquid. The most popular method of ingestion is swallowing a tablet, although people have reported smoking, snorting, injecting, licking, dissolving, and parachuting (wrapping in a tissue and swallowing whole). 

As with most drugs, the method of ingestion strongly impacts the amount of time it will take for the effects of Ecstasy 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.

A tablet is both the most popular and the riskiest method of consumption because tablets do not come in one uniform or standardized concentration. One can never be sure of the potency of a dose until one ingests it and experiences 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. “Piggybacking” – taking a series of pills over a short amount of time – is also unsafe. Both are done to intensify and prolong the effects of Ecstasy, and both can easily lead to overdose.

Can You Snort Molly?

A 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. 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.

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What are Common Ecstasy Symptoms?

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

In addition, Ecstasy causes a variety of negative short-term and long-term physical effects. Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms begin 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

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

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

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.

Because it is both a stimulant and hallucinogen, Ecstasy causes its users to see things that don’t exist and become oblivious to 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, or a heart attack.

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What are the Long-term Effects of Ecstasy Use?

When used consistently for an extended period of time, Ecstasy can 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

It is overwhelmingly clear that the risks and pitfalls of Ecstasy use 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 you Overdose on Ecstasy?

MDMA users quickly become desensitized to the effects of Ecstasy, causing them to up their dose every time to try and achieve a sense of euphoria. This constant increase in dosage can easily lead to an 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 lead to overdose and loss of consciousness.

Why is Ecstasy so addictive? 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 swiftly progress from simple experimentation to severe dependence.

Ecstasy Addiction Treatment at Avenues Recovery

If you or a loved one is struggling with Ecstasy addiction or any other substance use disorder, don’t suffer in silence. Help is available, and recovery is always possible! From detox to in-patient care to ongoing therapy, our team of addiction professionals will create a recovery treatment plan just for you and hold your hand every step of the way. Reach out to Avenues Recovery to find out how we can help you, and begin your journey home today. 

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