How Ecstasy Affects the Brain and Body

girl and effects of ecstasyOriginally synthesized for medical research by the German pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912, Ecstasy (or MDMA) wasn’t widely used as a recreational drug until decades later. In the 1970s, American scientists who were studying the effects of psychotropic drugs began to experiment with MDMA. The drug’s properties as a mood-enhancing psychedelic substance soon spread, and by the 1980s, Ecstasy had been widely introduced to the underground rave scene. Today, although Ecstasy is still known as a “club drug,” this substance is used in a broader range of settings, including high schools and college campuses.

What makes Ecstasy so appealing to users in search of a hallucinogenic high? The drug offers a unique combination of effects, including altered consciousness, euphoria, a sense of closeness to others, heightened sexuality and a surge of energy. But the short-term and long-term effects of this drug can have a devastating effect on your brain and body. Understanding the risks of Ecstasy abuse can help you decide whether a temporary high is really worth the risk.

Risks to Your Body

Ecstasy is classified as a stimulant as well as a hallucinogenic drug, which means that it accelerates the activity of the central nervous system. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warns that when you take the drug as a capsule, powder or liquid, MDMA will speed up vital functions like your breathing, metabolism and heart rate. Motor activity and vision are also affected. The physical effects of Ecstasy can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Tremors
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Chills
  • Severe dehydration

When taken in large doses, Ecstasy can make the body’s temperature rise very quickly, resulting in sudden fluid loss, seizures and major organ failure.

Effects on Your Brain

As a psychedelic drug, Ecstasy has powerful effects on your perceptions, moods, thoughts and emotions. The drug alters emotional responses and moods by enhancing the activities of important brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These drugs play vital roles in your sense of well-being, your mental stability and your energy levels. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ecstasy also affects the production of hormones that create feelings of emotional closeness, physical attraction and sexual desire. Ecstasy’s hallucinogenic properties can change the way you perceive time and space and may alter your sensory experiences.

While the effects of MDMA may make partying more fun, they can also have unintended consequences, such as:

  • Impaired judgment about high-risk behavior
  • Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases
  • An increased risk of sexual assault
  • An increased risk of accidental injuries, self-injury or death

Although Ecstasy’s addictive potential is still under investigation, clinical evidence indicates that prolonged use of the drug can produce addictive behaviors. In addition, using MDMA for extended periods of time can interfere with your brain’s natural production of neurotransmitters. Over the long term, Ecstasy abuse may lead to depression, anhedonia (a lack of pleasure in everyday activities), sleep disturbances, memory problems and cognitive deficits.

Is Ecstasy Really Dangerous?

Experimenting with Ecstasy at a concert or party might not seem like a health risk, but even casual users have found that this psychedelic drug can be extremely dangerous. In spite of the risks of MDMA, statistics suggest that Ecstasy abuse is on the rise. The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America reports that emergency room visits for Ecstasy increased by close to 75 percent between 2004 and 2008. Many individuals who abuse Ecstasy use other drugs at the same time, such as alcohol, meth or LSD, increasing their risk of harmful side effects.

Whether you’ve just started experimenting with Ecstasy or you’re using the drug on a regular basis, getting clean can be challenging. At Axis, our clinical experts understand the allure and the risks of this popular party drug. We encourage you to get in touch with us for answers to your questions about Ecstasy or information on how you can start the recovery process today.