MDMA (ecstasy) is an illegal hallucinogenic stimulant drug. It often comes as a colorful pill and is associated with concerts and nightclubs. Despite being deemed highly addictive and controlled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ecstasy is widely abused, even outside of the party scene.
What Is MDMA?
MDMA is the abbreviation of 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a synthetic (lab-created) drug. It is also commonly called ecstasy. This drug influences the brain to create time and sensory distortions, and it can also cause perceptions of increased self-awareness and empathy or enjoyment.
The chemical name indicates that MDMA is derived from amphetamine, which explains why it has a stimulant effect although it also has hallucinogenic and entactogenic (awareness and empathy) effects.
Molly is the common name for the crystalline form of MDMA. Molly is an abbreviation of “molecular.” This leads many people to believe that Molly is a pure form of the drug, though it is often laced with other substances. Molly comes in powder form or capsules.
How Is MDMA (Ecstasy) Abused?
Many people abuse MDMA (ecstasy) because it causes extraversion, warm feelings, more empathy toward others, and increased sensory perceptions.
Ecstasy is associated with binge use. People tend to take several doses of it over several days, then stop for a time, which fits with its profile as a rave or party drug. Some people report taking MDMA daily.
Most often taken orally in pill, capsule or powder form, MDMA can also be absorbed anally, and occasionally is snorted or smoked. These methods of abuse carry additional risks, such as nasal tissue erosion and lung damage.
Signs And Symptoms Of MDMA Abuse
MDMA works by increasing the functioning of three chemicals in the brain’s reward system: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
This makes it especially addictive, as the release of these chemicals produces a sense of euphoria. With prolonged use, MDMA can cause significant changes in brain structure that prompt mental cravings for the drug and make it very hard to stop taking.
Ecstasy especially affects the brain’s amount of serotonin, a neurochemical associated with feelings of love, bonding, and empathy. It does this by preventing the brain from reabsorbing serotonin to keep in reserve. When a person stops taking MDMA, the loss of serotonin may result in depression, burned-out feelings, and apathy.
Prolonged ecstasy abuse can also cause long-term psychological or behavioral impacts, such as:
- reduced cognitive abilities
- low motivation
- difficulty sleeping
- nightmares and shakes
- loss of interest in work, family or friends
- risky sexual behaviors
- paranoia and loneliness
Abusing MDMA can have both short-term and long-term effects on the body as well. Short-term effects may include:
- high blood pressure
- clenched jaw
- loss of consciousness
- reduced heart efficiency
Long-term effects can include:
- reduced appetite
- restless legs
- hot flashes or chills
- stiff muscles and joints
- excessive sweating
Dangers Of MDMA Abuse
An individual may begin to develop a tolerance to MDMA after one dose. This means that they need more of the drug to produce a similar effect in the future. It also means that as they take more of the drug, the positive effects are less potent and the negative effects increase over time.
Some people continue taking ecstasy in higher doses or more frequently to chase the positive effects. The more they do this, the more negative consequences they encounter as well, and so begins the cycle of addiction.
To reduce the feelings of depression and loneliness that occur after MDMA wears off, some individuals take other drugs like cocaine and heroin. These highly addictive drugs can worsen the problem and take a serious toll on a person’s health. Combining drugs also increases the risk of overdose.
MDMA (Ecstasy) And Polydrug Use
Polydrug abuse refers to people who may misuse multiple substances. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 90 percent of the people who use ecstasy also use other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana.
Ecstasy may also be laced with other drugs to produce more potent effects. One study by the DEA found that by the 1990s, only 10 percent of pills or capsules sold as MDMA were pure.
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Ecstasy may be laced with Ketamine, phencyclidine (PCP), dextromethorphan (DXM), pseudoephedrine, caffeine, or other compounds, including over-the-counter drugs. Beyond the risks of pure MDMA, added drugs have additional physical risk factors for overdose and adverse health effects.
For example, “sextasy” (ecstasy and Viagra) is a form of adulterated MDMA that combines two drugs which affect the heart and circulatory system. As a result, sextasy has more cardiac health risks than either ecstasy or Viagra used alone.
MDMA (Ecstasy) Addiction Treatment
Current research shows that one of the most effective treatments for MDMA (ecstasy) addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people change their thoughts, expectations, and behaviors.
At Vertava Health of Ohio, we offer both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which work together to support positive life changes, acceptance, and emotional regulation.
MDMA abuse and addiction often result from a lack of stress management skills that leads to unhealthy coping techniques. Our inpatient rehab program encourages healthy alternatives to substance use through adventure therapy, art, music, and a range of evidence-based practices.
Each individual in our care receives a personalized treatment plan that considers their unique experience with addiction. This helps them identify and resolve the root causes of substance abuse in their life so they can experience lasting recovery.