The Short and Long-Term Effects of Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy pills in a person's hand
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Ecstasy or methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug, derived from amphetamine, that acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen. People tend to use it recreationally because of the host of effects it can produce within an hour or so after taking a single dose, such as feelings of mental stimulation, decreased anxiety, and enhanced sensory perception. However, ecstasy use comes with notable risks, such as memory issues, depression, addiction, and more.

Background

Merck KGaA, a German pharmaceutical company, developed the drug in 1912. The U.S. Army used it for psychological warfare tests in the 1950s. In the 1960s, it was used by health professionals as a psychotherapy drug to lower inhibitions. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, it became a mainstream drug and was being used as a "party drug" at music festivals, raves, and clubs.

In 1985, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed the drug on the list of Schedule I drugs because of its high potential for abuse.

The drug is usually produced as a colorful tablet and imprinted with a logo. Ecstasy can also come in capsule, powder, or liquid form. Other common names for MDMA include:

  • Adam
  • Beans
  • Hug drug
  • Love drug
  • Molly
  • Roll
  • Scooby snacks
  • Snowball
  • X, E, XE or XTC

Short-Term Effects

MDMA can quickly produce the effects that users turn to the drug for, including:

  • Mental stimulation
  • Emotional warmth
  • Empathy toward others
  • A general sense of well-being
  • Decreased anxiety

Use of the drug in clubs and parties rose because MDMA's stimulant properties enable users to dance for extended periods of time.

The hallmark of the MDMA experience, however, is enhanced sensory perception.

However, there are some users who report undesirable effects immediately, including anxiety, agitation, and recklessness.

MDMA is not a benign drug. MDMA can produce a variety of adverse health effects, including nausea, chills, sweating, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. MDMA overdose can also occur. The symptoms can include high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and in severe cases, a loss of consciousness, and seizures.

The Dangers of Hyperthermia Linked to Ecstasy

The drug's stimulant properties and the usual environment in which it is often taken mean that MDMA is associated with the vigorous physical activity for extended periods. This can lead to one of the most significant although rare, acute adverse effects—a marked rise in body temperature (hyperthermia). Treatment of hyperthermia requires prompt medical attention, as it can rapidly lead to muscle breakdown, which can, in turn, result in kidney failure.

In addition, dehydration, hypertension, and heart failure may occur in susceptible individuals. MDMA can also reduce the pumping efficiency of the heart, of particular concern during periods of increased physical activity, thereby further complicate these problems.

Significant Reduction in Mental Ability

MDMA is rapidly absorbed into the human bloodstream, but once in the body, MDMA interferes with the body's ability to metabolize or break down the drug. As a result, additional doses of MDMA can produce unexpectedly high blood levels, which could worsen the cardiovascular and other toxic effects of this drug. MDMA also interferes with the metabolism of other drugs, including some of the adulterants that may be found in MDMA tablets.

In the hours after taking the drug, MDMA produces significant reductions in mental abilities. These changes, particularly those affecting memory, can last for up to a week, and possibly longer in regular users. The fact that MDMA markedly impairs information processing emphasizes the potential dangers of performing complex or even skilled activities, such as driving a car, while under the influence of this drug.

Some Side-Effects Can Linger

Over the course of the week following the moderate use of the drug, many MDMA users report feeling a range of emotions, including anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and sadness that in some individuals can be as severe as true clinical depression. Similarly, elevated anxiety, impulsiveness, and aggression, as well as sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and reduced interest in and pleasure from sex have been observed in regular MDMA users.

Some of these disturbances may not be directly attributable to MDMA but may be related to some of the other drugs often used in combination with MDMA, such as cocaine or marijuana, or to potential adulterants found in MDMA tablets.

When to Seek Help for MDMA Abuse

With ecstasy, the brain releases a flood of the neurotransmitter serotonin that brings on the positive uplifting effects of the drug. When the ecstasy use comes to an end, a user may find it very difficult to achieve the same levels of happiness since the brain has depleted its serotonin supply. The user then experiences moments of worry, confusion, insomnia, poor memory, and even depression. An ever-increasing desire for the drug is the natural next step.

Seeking professional treatment to help address these unwanted symptoms is essential to maintain abstinence from the drug, avoid drug substitution, and improve the user’s mental health.

Do you think you may need treatment for drug abuse? Take the Drug Abuse Treatment Screening Quiz to find out. ​ 

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