MDMA Ecstasy Facts Effects and Hazards

22 July 2015 Written by 

From Medical News Today By : Developed in 1914 as an appetite suppressant,

MDMA gained popularity in the 1980s among young adults at large music festivals and all-night dance parties (raves).

It gives the user feelings of euphoria, increased energy, intimacy, and sensitivity to touch.

Ecstasy is usually taken with other illegal drugs. Pills sold on the street like MDMA often contain additives, which can contribute to serious health effects, and can even lead to death.

MDMA has potential addictive properties, and research suggests some individuals who abuse MDMA can develop long-term cognitive problems.

You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.

Fast facts on MDMA

Here are some key points about MDMA. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • More than 11 million people have tried MDMA at least once.
  • 5.6% of 12th-grade students reported using MDMA.1
  • Over 100 variations of MDMA exist.
  • Tablets sold as pure ecstasy are often misrepresented and actually contain highly toxic additives.
  • MDMA can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature.
  • Ecstasy use has spread to a broad range of ethnic groups and music venues.
  • The number of hospital emergency department visits related to ecstasy increased 128% between 2005 and 2011 in patients under the age of 21.2
  • A person on ecstasy may not realize that they have become overheated.
  • The effect of ecstasy is greatly reduced after the first dose.
  • Ecstasy can interfere with its own ability to metabolize in the body, resulting in a harmful buildup.


What is MDMA?

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) is an illegal drug that acts as both a stimulant and psychedelic.

MDMA illustration
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) is often seen as the original designer drug because of its high profile links to dance music culture in the late 80s and early 90s.

It was used legally in the 1970s as an aid in psychotherapy (it was perceived to give users insights into their problems), even though there was no data to support its efficacy.

MDMA subsequently became available on the street. In 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration labeled MDMA a Schedule I substance, or a drug with high abuse potential and no recognized medicinal use.3

MDMA is primarily taken orally as a capsule or tablet, but can also be snorted or smoked as a powder. Doses range from 50 to 200 mg.4 MDMA's effects kick in in less than an hour and can last up to 6 hours, though it is common for users to take a second dose as the first wears off.

MDMA has many of the same physical effects as other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. These include increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased appetite, and increased energy.

MDMA works by increasing the brain's neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters influence our mood, sleep, and appetite. Serotonin also triggers the release of other hormones that cause feelings of attraction and intimacy; which explains why users hug, kiss, caress, and feel a connection with complete strangers.

Tablets labeled pure "ecstasy" can actually contain other unwanted drugs, including ephedrine, ketamine, caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, or even synthetic cathinones such as mephedrone (the psychoactive ingredient in "bath salts"). These harmful substances are particularly dangerous when mixed with MDMA.

When users buy MDMA off the street, they have no idea what they are actually taking. If they ingest other substances such as marijuana or cocaine along with MDMA, users unintentionally put themselves in great danger of adverse reactions. In January 2015, it was reported that four deaths were related to a potentially fatal batch of ecstasy.


Extent of use

Currently, around 5.6% of 12th-grade students report using MDMA.

In 2010, 4.6% of 12th-graders, 4.7% of 10th-graders, and 2.4% of 8th-graders reported they had used ecstasy in the past year. In 2000, 8.2% of 12th-graders, 5.4% of 10th-graders and 3.1% of 8th-graders reported they had used ecstasy.

Among people aged 12 to 49, the average age at first use for ecstasy is 19.4 years. In 2010, an estimated 695,000 Americans aged 12 or older were current ecstasy drug users, meaning they had used an ecstasy drug during the month prior to the survey interview.

Street names

Common street names for MDMA include:

  • Molly
  • X
  • Hug Drug
  • Mandy
  • Superman
  • E
  • Love Pill
  • Love Drug
  • Clarity
  • California Sunrise
  • Cadillac
  • Adam
  • Bean
  • Roll
  • XTC
  • Happy Pill
  • Malcolm X
  • Thizz
  • Skittles
  • Dancing Shoes
  • Disco Biscuits.

Side effects of MDMA

Along with the desired effects of increased alertness, euphoria, and enhanced physical and mental powers, minor self-limiting adverse effects are common:

group of people partying
The main effects of ecstasy include an energy buzz that makes people feel alert and alive, with sounds and colors often experienced as more intense.

Health risks of MDMA

Several factors contribute to MDMA's potential life-threatening side effects.

MDMA causes an elevation in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. These stimulant effects, combined with prolonged physical activity, a hot environment, and additionally added drugs (both purposefully taken and unknown additives in the powder), can result in unpredictable and serious physical complications.

Deaths from MDMA use are most often from hyperthermia (sudden increase in body temperature), cardiovascular collapse, or significant dehydration.

urban street view seen through blurred vision
Ecstasy causes blurred vision and distorts perception, including judging distance.

Warning signs suggestive of a serious life and death event include:

  • Excessive thirst and profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramping
  • Shaking chills
  • Little to no urine output
  • Blurred vision
  • Fainting
  • Seizure.

If not treated as an emergency, any of the above potential complications can lead to death.

Addictive potential of MDMA

The surge of serotonin caused by taking MDMA results in a depletion of this vital neurotransmitter. It can take several days or even weeks for the brain to replenish the serotonin, as a result, users experience withdrawal-like symptoms including insomnia, confusion, drug craving, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, some MDMA users continue their use despite negative consequences, which suggests MDMA has addiction potential.

Long-term effects of MDMA

Animal studies show that MDMA in moderate to high doses can damage nerve cells in the brain.5 MDMA users can experience long-lasting confusion, depression, sleep abnormalities, and problems with attention and memory. It is not fully known if these effects are due to MDMA alone, or to the use of other drugs in combination with MDMA.6

MDMA is an illegal drug that has the potential to cause serious and potentially deadly adverse effects.

Young people have misconceptions that MDMA is a safe party drug, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Added impurities, combined with an all-night dance party experience, makes taking any form of MDMA a significantly dangerous behavior.

Recent developments on MDMA from MNT news

Moderate doses of MDMA 'fatal in warm environments'

Results of a new preclinical study from the National Institutes of Health - published in the Journal of Neuroscience - find that the recreational drug MDMA, in combination with warmer brain temperature, is associated with a higher risk of death.

Ecstasy-related hospital visits increase by 128% in under-21s

The number of hospital emergency department visits related to the hallucinogenic drug ecstasy increased 128% between 2005 and 2011 in patients under the age of 21, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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