Long Term Health Risks of Ecstasy Abuse

It was once thought that Ecstasy wasn’t addictive. As a study published in 1992 in the journal Addiction puts it, the drug isn’t “conducive to regular and frequent use,” because people who take the drug regularly often develop a tolerance to the positive feelings caused by the drug, while experiencing negative side effects on a much more frequent basis. However, as most addicts will readily admit, drugs that are addictive are often not pleasurable for addicts to take. In fact, most addicts report that the drugs they take simply make them feel normal, not happy, and some report that the drugs they take make them feel terrible, yet they can’t stop taking them. This is the nature of addiction, and modern research suggests that Ecstasy certainly is addictive. Those who develop addictions to Ecstasy face significant health problems due to long-term abuse of the drug.

How Ecstasy Works, and Why It’s Addictive

Ecstasy and the BrainAccording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 43 percent of people who use Ecstasy could be considered dependent on the drug, as they continued to use it even though they knew it was harmful. While it would be easy to label these people as simply delusional, since they’re continuing to take in substances despite the consequences they face, the addictions are much more subtle and they have more to do with chemistry than they have to do with morality.

Ecstasy, also known by the chemical name MDMA, attacks brain cells that use or create the chemical serotonin. When a person takes Ecstasy, the drug attaches to a transporter cell that is supposed to move serotonin from one cell to another. This altered transporter cell can cause other cells to create more serotonin, and it can also inhibit those cells from picking up the extra serotonin that is lying between the cells. A person on Ecstasy has a brain flooded with chemicals, and a large number of the body’s processes are altered as a result. It is this chemical alteration that’s responsible for the development of addiction, but those alterations are also responsible for some of the long-term effects caused by abuse of this drug.
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Changes in Mood and Personality

Mood ChngesMany people take Ecstasy because they’d like to feel upbeat and happy when they’re out with friends in a party situation. Ironically, the drug they take in order to feel happy could cause them long-term mental health problems. According to the Asia and Pacific Amphetamine-Type Stimulants Information Centre, about 60 percent of people who use Ecstasy develop feelings of depression during the withdrawal period. These depressed feelings are easy to understand, as people who are in withdrawal from Ecstasy might also be fatigued and have difficulty with concentration. Feeling like this for days, or even for weeks, could lead to depression in almost anyone. Unfortunately, even though the fatigue and the concentration troubles might resolve within a relatively short period of time, research suggests that some people who abuse Ecstasy develop depression that lasts for a much longer period of time. According to a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, people who took Ecstasy for a long period of time had significantly higher scores for depression than people who did not take the drug. It’s quite possible that the cellular damage in the brain caused by the addiction makes long-term depression much more likely.
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Changes in Memory and Cognition

Since Ecstasy causes so many chemical changes within the brain, it’s not surprising that long-term abuse can lead to difficulties with memory and clear thinking. Since these are the brain’s major tasks, taking drugs that damage the brain would obviously make these jobs harder for the brain to perform. In order to measure this damage in animals, researchers often provide the animals with drugs, and they then perform autopsies to determine how many changes have taken place in these animal brains. In one such study, published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, a single dose of Ecstasy given eight weeks prior still caused damage seen in the autopsy. It’s clear that the drug does a significant amount of damage that could impair the thought process.

Human studies are slightly more difficult to perform, as most people would (obviously) resist undergoing an invasive test or an autopsy. In addition, most people who take Ecstasy take other drugs, including marijuana and alcohol. It can be hard for researchers to determine what damage can be pinned on the Ecstasy and what can be blamed on the other drugs. In human studies, researchers attempt to get around these problems by:

  • Providing people with memory tests
  • Administering problem-solving tests
  • Using people who take no drugs at all as controls
  • Using people who take other drugs as controls

As a result of these modifications, clear studies of the effects of Ecstasy on human memory and thought processes have been performed, and the results are truly dire. Many of these studies suggest that taking the drug can have a huge impact on memory and cognition, and those changes can persist for a long period of time. In one such study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, people who took Ecstasy regularly recalled only 75 percent of the ideas remembered by people who did not take drugs, and people who took other drugs. This study seems to indicate that there is something about Ecstasy, in particular, that damages a person’s ability to remember information accurately.
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Damage to the Heart

In addition to binding to serotonin cells in the brain, Ecstasy can also bind to cells that release the chemical norepinephrine. This chemical is responsible for regulating the body’s heart rate and blood pressure, and if these cells are damaged, the heart might work much harder than it should on a regular basis. People who have underlying heart disorders may feel the effect of the drug on this chemical almost immediately, but even people who have previously healthy hearts could develop long-term heart damage due to abuse of Ecstasy. This is particularly true of people who take multiple doses of the drug over a short period of time. Ecstasy doesn’t break down in the body very easily, meaning that the drug might still be present in the body even when the user thinks that all of the drug has been processed. Those who take multiple doses of the drug might, therefore, have extremely high doses of the drug circulating in their bodies, and they may develop extreme heart problems in just a short period of time.

These problems have been seen in studies of people who take Ecstasy. For example, a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that people who took Ecstasy had changes in their resting heart rates, compared to people who do not take the drug. It’s unclear how long this damage might last, but it is clear that the damage could be deadly.
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Behavior-Related Health Risks

Ecstasy UsePeople who take Ecstasy feel warm, happy and connected to other people. They also have an impaired ability to think clearly and make good decisions. All of this could lead people to engage in:

  • Sexual acts with strangers
  • Unprotected sex
  • Sex with multiple partners
  • Prostitution

This behavior has been well documented in studies. For example, according to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Ecstasy use was closely associated with unprotected sex in men who had sex with men. This kind of behavior could lead to health problems including infections with hepatitis or HIV/AIDS. Some of these infections can be treated with medications, but some of these infections are considered chronic health conditions that must be managed for the rest of the person’s life.
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Getting Better

Addictions to Ecstasy can be incredibly damaging, but people who are addicted can get better with help. Therapy can help people learn more about how the addiction began, and therapy can help people learn how to work with the damage that has taken place. People who continue to take the drugs may continue to do damage, but people who stop taking the drug might allow their minds to heal, and their lives to improve. At Axis, we provide help for people struggling with this addiction. In our beautiful facility, we provide a calming place for people to learn, heal and grow. Please call us today to learn more about the help that we can provide.
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