Ecstasy is made using a powerfully psychoactive drug called 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).
Ecstasy is a hallucinogenic amphetamine producing feelings of intense euphoria, intimacy and a sense of oneness with others. A member of a group of psychoactive drugs called “club drugs”, Ecstasy is popular with people attending “raves”, or large dance parties usually held in abandoned buildings or warehouses. Although raves are promoted as being alcohol-free and safe because security personnel are often hired to prevent disruptions, raves are anything but safe because they encourage excessive use of Ecstasy and other club drugs as well as sexual promiscuity with strangers.
Often referred to as a “party” or “club” drug, ecstasy is a synthetic psychoactive substance that alters mood and perception. Chemically, ecstasy is similar to other drugs in that it’s a stimulant and a hallucinogen. When ingested, it floods the brain’s pleasuring centers causing feelings of increased energy and pleasure.
Synthesized in illegal and underground labs, ecstasy is generally sold in pill form, coming in a variety of colors and shapes. It is also not uncommon for dealers to sell gel capsules filled with MDMA powder. A form of “liquid ecstasy” is actually gamma hydroxybutyrate, which goes by the name GHB, and is a central nervous system depressant.
Street Names Of Ecstasy
Often called the “love pill” by media because of the drug’s ability to heighten perception of sound, color, smell and touch, Ecstasy works to stimulate the senses by significantly increasing levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Street names associated with Ecstasy include;
In the U.S., Ecstasy was banned in 1984. It’s now classified as a schedule I narcotic by the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, along with such drugs as heroin, cocaine lysergic acid (LSD) and marijuana.
How Ecstasy is Used
Most ecstasy users swallow a pill or capsule, though it can also be dissolved in liquid and drank or crushed and snorted. More extreme users have been known to inject the liquefied form of ecstasy. However MDMA is ingested, the euphoric “high” typically lasts three to six hours, depending on purity or what the drug has been cut with.
Because of the heightened sensory perception and increased levels of energy the drug induces, ecstasy has become a commonly abused drug at “raves” – all night dance parties – and music festivals.
Ecstasy’s Hazardous Aspects
Despite ecstasy’s reputation for “happiness in pill form,” using MDMA, whether on a regular basis or for the first time, comes with a heavy list of psychological and physical side effects that, in the end, are potentially fatal. One reason for this is ecstasy causes the body to overheat, a condition known as hyperthermia. This side effect in combination with high levels of physical activity, such as dancing, or extreme temperatures at an outdoor music festival can cause heart and kidney failure.
Two teenage girls fatally overdosed on ecstasy at the Hard Summer Music Festival in Pomona, California, and numerous other deaths have occurred in similar circumstances. Other physical side effects of ecstasy include some of the following, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Possible adverse side effects of an Ecstasy addiction include:
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Memory and problems concentrating
- Decreased sex drive
- Sleep problems
- Trouble remembering and concentrating
- Teeth grinding
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating/dehydration
- Reduced appetite
- Hyperthermia (high body temperature)
- Suicidal ideation
- Nausea, sweating and chills
- Involuntary teeth clenching
- Muscle cramps
- Blurred vision
Possible Long Term Health Consequences
Continuous exposure of the brain to MDMA may cause functional and structural deficits involving brain lesions along certain neural pathways. Long-term use of Ecstasy has also been correlated to degeneration of neurons within the hippocampal, prefrontal and visual areas of the brain. Sustained hyperthermia will damage neurons as well. Reduction in the brain’s gray matter due to an Ecstasy addiction can negatively interfere with normal sensory perception, speech, self-control and decision-making.
Ecstasy Can Be Addictive
Whether or not ecstasy is physically addictive is a topic of heated debate. Repeated use does lead to tolerance, the need to take more of the drug to achieve the same effect, which can lead to abuse. Additionally, using ecstasy on a regular basis might lessen the pleasure drawn from day-to-day activities once enjoyed without other chemical enhancements.
Unlike opioids, club drugs such as Ecstasy are more psychological addicting than physically addicting. Since mood and sensation are so strongly affected, withdrawing from Ecstasy leaves users with intense anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure or satisfaction. A core clinical symptom of schizophrenia and acute depression, anhedonia is more likely to cause Ecstasy addicts to relapse than physical signs of withdrawal. Knowing that one Ecstasy tablet will relieve the misery of anhedonia, depression and suicidal thoughts is essentially what drives MDMA users to continue abusing this drug. Treating an addiction to Ecstasy should only be done under medical supervision in a professional detoxification program, followed by intense individual counseling and psychotherapy.
Developed more than 100 years ago by Merck, a pharmaceutical company, methylenedioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA, was used by the United States Army in psychological warfare testing 1953. A few years later, in the 1960s, some psychotherapists gave their patients ecstasy due to the drug’s effect of lowering inhibitions.
Developed over 100 years ago to help people cope with various kinds of mental illness, MDMA is similar chemically to hallucinogens and stimulants and illegal in the U.S.
When swallowed as a tablet, Ecstasy starts distorting perceptions and increases feelings of euphoria, empathy and invincibility within 45 minutes. Effects can last anywhere from three to six hours, depending on the grade and amount of Ecstasy consumed, injected or snorted.
“Suicide Tuesdays” is a phrase coined by ecstasy users because of the psychological toll “coming down” – the drug’s effects wearing off – takes on the mind and body. After a weekend of using MDMA, the brain is in short supply of dopamine and serotonin, which can lead to extreme depression and, in some cases, causes users to take their own lives.
Question of Quality
As with other illegal drugs, people purchasing ecstasy can never quite be sure that what they’re taking is not cut with any number of other potentially deadly chemicals. Some harm reduction organizations, such as Dance Safe, offer testing kits at “raves” or other venues for users to test the purity of the drugs they’ve purchased. This, however, requires people to come forward without fear of being arrested or punished.
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