Other Drugs

Ecstasy

What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy (aka: disco biscuits, molly, E, X, XTC) is the name for MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine). MDMA (and its close relation MDA) is classified as an enactogen- drugs that have stimulant, hallucinogenic and mood-improving qualities. It was originally developed as a diet aid. Before it was made illegal in 1985, it was used experimentally by mental health professionals in controlled settings to help people in couple's counseling. It began to be used illicitly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though ecstasy use still continues today, its use among all age groups has substantially decreased from 2014 until now. 

What is molly?

Molly is another slang term for MDMA. It has effects similar to those of other stimulants. Molly was a term originally used to denote pure MDMA, usually powdered and in a capsule. This is no longer the case. Molly is often a mystery powder and can contain any number of substances, some of which even mimic similar effects of MDMA. These substances can also cause severe health consequences ranging from allergic responses to temperature regulation issues to panic attacks. Some common cuts (adulterants) are PMA/PMMA, Methamphetamine, 2-C(x), and Cathinones including Mephedrone, Methylone (bk-MDMA), Butylone, MDPV, and 2-MEC or 4-MEC.

The information on this page applies to molly as well as ecstasy. 

How is ecstasy used?

Ecstasy’s use is often referred to as “rolling” or “tripping x”. Ecstasy is almost always swallowed in 60 to 120 mg pills. It is very infrequently snorted or taken in a liquid form through injection. The strength and contents of Ecstasy tablets cannot be known accurately. Sometimes these pills are stamped with symbols (like clover leafs, horseshoes, or smiley faces) as underground brand names or identifying markers. However, these symbols do not mean that a pill is pure or safe. All ecstasy available on the street is produced in unregulated black market laboratories. 

Why do people take ecstasy?

Ecstasy produces a euphoric high that lasts from 3 to 4 hours by generating a rush of serotonin and a smaller amount of dopamine, the neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood. Serotonin is the neurochemical that many antidepressants regulate. Users describe ecstasy as making them empathic, producing a temporary state of openness. Depending on its contents, ecstasy can also cause mild hallucinogenic effects. Users report that the rush of serotonin is pleasurable and produces both an emotionally relaxed and physically exhilarated state. However, this extremely fast deployment of serotonin can deplete normal serotonin levels and produce depression or malaise after the drug wears off. 

What are there short-term effects or risks of taking ecstasy?

Pills sold as ecstasy may not be ecstasy at all. MDMA purchased on the street is frequently laced with other drugs like cocaine, heroine, PCP, or toxic chemicals like PMA and DXM, atropine, and rat poison. In a 1996 study of Ecstasy content, 19 out of 33 pills (58%) were found to contain less than 25% MDMA. Only 5 pills (15%) were more than 75% MDMA.

Users report a number of side effects, including:

  • Heatstroke (also known as hyperthermia)
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Blurred vision
  • Faintness
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Teeth clenching
  • Depressive state day after consumption

Ecstasy raises your body temperature and heart rate. Combine this with hot conditions, the physical activity of dancing in a party or club, and inadequate water consumption, and the greatest immediate danger of MDMA use is heatstroke. Heatstroke (or hyperthermia) is the primary cause of death from ecstasy. Someone taking ecstasy should make sure to drink about a pint of water every hour while on ecstasy, sipping, rather than drinking it all at once. Another helpful strategy would be to take breaks from dancing on a hot dance floor to cool off- this is an effective way to reduce the risk of heatstroke.

Ecstasy causes the release of norepinephrine, which increases your heart rate dramatically and can be dangerous for people with cardiovascular disease or other related conditions. Dehydration can also lead to liver or kidney failure. Some people report adverse emotional reactions to ecstasy including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia; some of these symptoms may persist long after taking the drug. Using ecstasy with alcohol and/or other drugs can increase the risk of adverse effects. Alcohol can also dehydrate the body as well and its depressant effects can mask the stimulant properties of ecstasy, misleading the user about how intoxicated they really are.

Some studies have indicated that people who use ecstasy are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and having multiple sexual partners. The use of Ecstasy and other club drugs can also lead to unsafe sex, the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy. 

Are there long-term consequences to taking ecstasy?

More and more research suggests that ecstasy causes endogenous serotonin levels to drop below normal, which impairs the brain's ability to learn, retain information, and regulate mood. It appears that ecstasy causes serotonin receptors, which aid in the release of serotonin in the brain, to shrink from overuse. Some evidence shows that restoration of serotonin receptors is possible with continued abstinence from the drug. However, people who have never taken ecstasy have more functional serotonin receptors than those who have.

Other studies suggest that regular or heavy ecstasy use has long-term negative effects on memory and brain functioning that can persist well beyond the last pill taken (and seem to continue to increase in spite of long-term abstinence from the drug). One study found that women are particularly vulnerable to damage to the serotonin system by MDMA.

How do I recognize problematic ecstasy use?

Some of the signs of problematic use are:

  • Increased use. More frequent or prolonged use of ecstasy.
  • Tolerance. Needing more ecstasy to get the same high or reach the desired effect.
  • Premeditation. Spending exaggerated amounts of time thinking about ecstasy.
  • Financial instability. Spending more money than you have or intended on ecstasy.
  • Failure to fulfill major role obligations. Missing class, work, or failing to fulfill important roles because of ecstasy use.
  • Changing social dynamics. Making new friends who consistently use ecstasy and/or neglecting old friends who don't.
  • Lack of life satisfaction. Finding it's hard to be happy without ecstasy.

If you find that you, a friend, or a loved one can't stop using ecstasy, remember that there's always help available. 

Is ecstasy addictive?

Heavy users whose serotonin system is regularly depleted by the drug rely on greater quantities of the drug to produce smaller and smaller effects. Because the serotonin supply is finite, repeated dosing cannot provide a stronger or lengthened high after all your serotonin has been released. A study of young adult and adolescent ecstasy users found that 43% were dependent, and 34% met the criteria for drug abuse. Almost 60% of users reported both physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Frequently, though, ecstasy users also use other drugs and alcohol and may be addicted to more than one drug simultaneously. 

Is ecstasy illegal?

Yes, ecstasy is illegal and it is currently a Schedule I drug (drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse). Its possession, use, and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines, as well as disciplinary consequences at Brown. See the Brown University Policy on Drugs on the Student Rights and Responsibilities web site. 

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs or alcohol?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them. 

Related Links

DanceSafe
DanceSafe promotes health and safety within the rave and nightclub community. The website has drug information, e-news archives, information on testing kits and features like Your Brain on Ecstasy.

The Good Drugs Guide
This British harm-reduction web site provides extensive information on ecstasy, including the basics, dangers, mixing with other drugs and links.

National Institutes of Health Club Drug Site
Provides trends and statistics, research reports and health information on club drugs.

National Institute on Drug Abuse 

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