Facts About the Psychoactive Drug Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy Pills

Ecstasy—the street name of the chemical 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, shortened as MDMA—is a synthetic, psychoactive (mind-altering) drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. Its chemical structure is similar to two other synthetic drugs, DA and methamphetamine, which are known to cause brain damage.

What Is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy was originally developed as a diet aid but was also used experimentally during counseling because of its ability to reduce inhibitions. The drug is also known by numerous street names including: Molly, Adam, Xtc, X, Hug, Go, Hug Drug, Beans, and Love Drug.

Although some clandestine labs have been discovered operating inside the United States, most of the MDMA sold in the U.S. is manufactured in Canada and smuggled into the U.S. A small percentage of Ecstasy in the U.S. is manufactured in the Netherlands.


Ecstasy comes in a tablet form that is often imprinted with graphic designs or commercial logos. It is usually swallowed as a pill but it can also be crushed and snorted, injected, or used in suppository form.

Ecstasy is popular among middle-class adolescents and young adults. It is sold at bars, underground nightclubs, and at raves, which are all-night parties.


Ecstasy is known for its energizing effect, as well as distortions in time and perception and enhanced enjoyment from physical experiences. The effect lasts from three to four hours per use. The physical side effects that occur while taking Ecstasy can last for weeks.

Its popularity grew in the late 1980s in the rave and club scenes and on college campuses because of its reputation for producing high energy and a trusting and opened effect among those who take it.


Ecstasy can produce some problems similar to those found among people who use amphetamine and cocaine. Immediate effects may include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Impulsiveness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite
  • Panic attacks
  • Reduced interest in and pleasure from sex
  • Restlessness
  • Sadness
  • Significant reductions in mental abilities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Thirst

Health consequences of the drug may involve:

  • Blurred vision
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Chills
  • Dehydration
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthermia (marked rise in body temperature)
  • Involuntary jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Kidney failure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sweating

People who use ecstasy often experience muscle tension, involuntary teeth-clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.

These medical consequences can be serious and potentially life-threatening. MDMA is very dangerous if you live with circulatory or heart disease because the drug increases heart rate and blood pressure.


Almost 60% of people who use MDMA report withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, loss of appetite, depressed feelings, and trouble concentrating. Some people who use ecstasy will require treatment for drug use.

Common Additives

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), many Ecstasy tablets seized by law enforcement officials have been found to contain other drugs or a combination of drugs that can be harmful. MDMA is often mixed with other drugs such as:

  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Dextromethorphan or DXM (a cough suppressant that has PCP-like effects at high doses)
  • Ephedrine (a stimulant)
  • Ketamine (an anesthetic used mostly by veterinarians that also has PCP-like effects)
  • Methamphetamine

Combining or using drugs with MDMA, including marijuana and alcohol, is dangerous and puts you at higher physical risk.


In a study using monkeys, exposure to ecstasy for four days caused brain damage to serotonin nerve terminals that could still be seen up to seven years later, providing evidence that people who take ecstasy may be risking permanent brain damage.

Research has shown that MDMA can damage serotonin-containing neurons, which may lead to long-lasting mood changes as well as potentially affecting attention, memory, and other cognitive functions.

Drugs Similar to Ecstasy

The parent drug to ecstasy is MDA, an amphetamine-like drug that has a similar chemical structure to MDMA. PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine, associated with fatalities in the U.S. and Australia) is also sometimes sold as MDMA. Mephedrone is also a new designer drug with similar effects.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2018.

  2. Meyer JS. 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): Current perspectives. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2013;4:83-99. doi:10.2147/SAR.S37258

Additional Reading
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Ecstasy/MDMA. Drug Fact Sheets. 2015

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.