The Facts about Ecstasy Abuse

MDMA, which is commonly known as ecstasy, is one of the four most commonly used illicit drugs, along with cocaine, heroin and marijuana.  It is a psychoactive drug with hallucinogenic and stimulant properties.  It contains chemicals similar to those found in methamphetamine, LSD and mescaline.  Unlike the other major illicit drugs, studies indicate that ecstasy has the potential to cause permanent brain damage, resulting in lifelong emotional and psychological problems.

History of Ecstasy

MDMA began as a chemical compound that was developed by Merck Pharmaceuticals in the early 20th century while in search of new drugs to treat abnormal bleeding.  The drug was never manufactured by Merck and was largely forgotten until the late 1960s when a chemistry researcher at UC Berkeley named Alexander Shulgin synthesized the drug and without benefit of FDA testing began to promote it for the treatment of psychological disorders.

By the mid-1970s, MDMA was available on the street as a recreational drug.  Its use at rock concerts, nightclubs and raves spread across the U.S. and Europe.  It became popular first on college campuses and then in high schools.  By the mid-1980s, the effects of MDMA caused it to be outlawed. Under a United Nations agreement, it is criminalized in most nations around the world.

Short-Term Effects of Ecstasy

Ecstasy is most often ingested in tablet form, though it is also sometimes snorted or smoked.  The effects of ecstasy, which usually last from 4 to 6 hours, are reported to include feelings of euphoria, relaxation, empathy for others and a release from anxiety.  The less pleasurable short-term effects of the drug include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision
  • Chills, swearing and nausea
  • Muscle cramping and tremors
  • Paranoia, anxiety and depression
  • Increased blood temperature
  • Elevated blood pressure

Many ecstasy users take the drug over a period of several days while participating in multi-day parties or raves.  The amphetamine effects of ecstasy can cause users to go without eating, drinking or sleeping for extended periods, resulting in severe dehydration and exhaustion.

Like cocaine and heroin, it is possible to overdose on ecstasy.  A rise in blood pressure and body temperature can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, heart failure and stroke.  One of the most publicized recent cases of ecstasy overdose involved a 15-year-old girl named Sasha Rodriguez who experienced seizures and coma as a result of ecstasy intoxication during a rave in Los Angeles.  Two days later she was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support.

Long-Term Effects of Ecstasy Abuse

Because the abuse of ecstasy is a relatively new problem, the long-term effects of the drugs are still being discovered.  Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that users suffer from damage to neurons in the brain that are involved in the transmission of serotonin.  Learning, sleep and emotional health are impaired, leading to anxiety, depression, memory loss and other disorders.  Because serotonin controls emotion, long-time users of ecstasy may actually lose the ability to feel positive emotions like happiness and serenity. Treatment for ecstasy addiction is available at certain drug treatment facilities.

Ecstasy is an addictive drug that fosters both psychological and physical dependence.  Most people who use the drug repeatedly find it hard to stop without the benefit of medically-supervised detox, counseling and behavior modification therapy.

Recovery is fueled by hope and courage and an exploration of the underlying factors such as trauma. Our treatment driven by compassionate and trauma-informed care provides the foundation of recovery and healing.

– Valerie M. Kading, DNP, MBA, MSN, PMHNP-BC, Chief Executive Officer
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