Traditionally a drug of raves and clubs, ecstasy is a psychoactive drug that is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen.
Ecstasy, the popular name for the chemical compound MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), is a synthetic drug containing amphetamine and mescaline. Ecstasy is often cut with other drugs or chemicals, and it is usually taken orally via capsule or tablet.
Recently ecstasy has received a rebranding of sorts, now called Molly, which is considered a safer and purer powdered version of MDMA. Molly supposedly contains none of the added chemicals of its predecessor, and it is crossing into more mainstream societies. Not just for clubbing anymore, ecstasy is now used not only by kids but also by older professionals and upper-class members of society. While it is perceived as “safer” than drugs like cocaine or heroin, ecstasy use does not come without risk. In fact, The New York Times reports a doubling of emergency department visits related to MDMA since 2004.
Ecstasy stimulates three of the brain’s neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are partially responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, pleasure, trust, love, and sexual arousal. Ecstasy is often abused in order to enhance sensations, loosen inhibitions, and create feelings of empathy and emotional closeness. Chemically altering the brain’s natural responses, however, can have consequences. Common side effects of ecstasy abuse include:
- Teeth grinding
- Loss of appetite
- Erratic heart rate
More serious health risks may also occur, such as seizures, paranoia, psychosis, high blood pressure, hyperthermia, and depression. Stimulant drugs increase heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, and in some cases, this can lead to dangerously high levels of each creating organ damage or even death. Once the drug clears the system, the brain’s chemicals that were previously stimulated are depleted.
Suicide is a risk factor associated with the extreme depression brought on by low levels of serotonin in the brain. Long-term abuse of ecstasy may also be linked to potentially permanent brain damage, including memory loss or impairment. Chronic abuse can also lead to the brain becoming dependent on the drug, and the brain may stop producing necessary neurotransmitters independently, which may cause intense drug cravings.
It is a common misconception that ecstasy is not addictive. The DEA considers ecstasy a Schedule I controlled substance, classifying it as having no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse. As with other illicit drugs, ecstasy makes chemical changes in the reward pathways and pleasure center in the brain. This can lead to both a physical and psychological dependence, and addiction.
Spotting an ecstasy addiction may not be easy. Some of the warning signs of abuse to watch for include:
- Hyperactivity and/or less need for sleep
- Excessive drinking of water
- Flushed skin
- Extremely touchy/feely
- Sweating a lot
- Hallucinations and/or a distortion of time or senses
- Tolerance and using more of the drug each time it’s used
- Change in social circles
- Personality shifts
- Financial trouble
- Decline in work and/or school performance
A study published by Brown University found that 34 percent of the adolescents and young adults studied were considered to meet the criteria for drug abuse while 43 percent were dependent on ecstasy. A staggering 60 percent reported both psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous aspects of ecstasy abuse is that you may not have any idea what is in the form you are taking. Ecstasy may contain other drugs like heroin, PCP, or cocaine. Other toxins are also often laced into the drug including DXM, atropine, PMA, and even rat poison. Not only are these chemicals hazardous and potentially toxic, you may have no idea how the drugs interact with one another, or your system, which can have disastrous and potentially life-threatening consequences. Ecstasy is relatively fast-acting, but can actually work to block the metabolism of itself and other drugs back into the bloodstream, resulting in toxic amounts in the body.
Even the newer form of Molly is not necessarily pure. In fact, Molly may be less pure due to the relative ease of tampering with a powder in comparison to a tablet or pill. Scientific data is still relatively rare, but a freelance group tested some samples of Molly in a DEA-licensed lab and found that only 23 percent of them were actually pure MDMA, as reported by NBC News. Ecstasy is also often taken in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol, which increases the risk factors and potential side effects of all substances involved.
Ecstasy abuse creates a lowering of inhibitions and a surge of impulsivity, which can also lead to risky behavior. The enhanced sensations produced by MDMA promote an intense desire for users to touch and be touched, increasing the potential for unsafe sexual encounters, unwanted pregnancy, and the spread of diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Abusers of ecstasy may do things they wouldn’t normally consider doing and then regret it the next day.
Addicts spend most of their time focused on how they will obtain their drug of choice, using it and then recovering from it. Chronic drug abuse has lasting social, economic, emotional, and physical ramifications. Ecstasy dependence can lead to users experiencing difficult withdrawal symptoms when the drug is removed. Withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, agitation, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, depression, twitching, dry mouth, nausea and/or vomiting, and headaches. Withdrawal symptoms often need to be managed by medical personal in a rehabilitation center offering a safe and secure detox center. In the case of ecstasy, many users experience a delayed withdrawal, with severe depression settling in a full day after taking the drug. Supervision and support during this time are vital to help address suicidal tendencies.
Discovering the root cause of addiction through behavioral therapies can help addicts to modify their behaviors and develop coping mechanisms to prevent relapse. Emotional strength and balance are key to a successful recovery. Individual, group, and family therapy sessions coupled with long-term support groups and healthy lifestyle changes are also important tools. Axis care starts with a compassionate, nonjudgmental, and comprehensive evaluation to determine the best evidence-based treatment model for you or your loved one. Call us to learn more.