Ecstasy Abuse

Ecstasy is a street name for the synthetic drug 3-4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA).

Ecstasy is a psychoactive stimulant known to increase energy while also causing distortions in perception and time. Ecstasy has a high potential for abuse and has been outlawed in the United States.

Ecstasy was first developed in 1912 by a chemist working for Merck, a prominent pharmaceutical company. The idea behind its creation was to make an anticoagulant. However, over the next 65 years, the drug was ignored while Merck chemists worked on other drugs. Eventually, MDMA was circulated to the public and synthesized by other chemists.

By the 1970s, MDMA was used as a recreational drug in the United States. At this time, Alexander Shulgin began using the drug and recording its results in humans. Shulgin and his colleagues recorded the psychotropic effects of Ecstasy and provided some theoretical medical benefits of the drug.

Ecstasy use became prominent in nightclubs and raves. The drug became pervasive in the rave culture, and illicit use of MDMA became as popular as cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

Eventually, MDMA was classified as a Schedule I drug, which meant that the drug had no true medical benefits and was considered highly addictive. This means that possession of just one gram is a federal offense.

How Ecstasy Works

Ecstasy works, mainly, on the receptors of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), serotonin is involved in the regulating mood, emotions, sleep, anxiety, memory, perception, appetite and aggression. Interfering with the transport and production of serotonin creates noticeable behavioral changes.

Ecstasy causes more serotonin to flood the nervous system. The drug causes this effect in two ways, both associated with serotonin transporters. Serotonin transporters are proteins that normally transport serotonin away from the nerve synapse, thus reducing the effects of serotonin.

Ecstasy interferes with the normal function of serotonin transporters.

  • First, the drug binds to serotonin transporters and prevents them from removing serotonin from the nerve synapse. This allows serotonin to continue to function and adds to the amount of serotonin within the synapse.
  • Second, Ecstasy is able to reverse the normal effect of serotonin transporters. This means that instead of taking up serotonin, the transporters secrete any stored serotonin. Once again, this drastically increases the amount of serotonin in the addict’s body.

Increased serotonin levels cause the pleasurable effects, or “high,” associated with Ecstasy use. With repeated use, the addict’s body begins to adjust to the high levels of serotonin and becomes dependent on the intake of Ecstasy. Due to the presence of powerful pleasurable effects and the neurobiological dependency it causes, Ecstasy can potentially be addictive.

Short-Term Pleasurable Effects

Addicts use Ecstasy because of the pleasurable effects the drug produces. It stimulates certain mental processes, provides an influx of positive emotions, enhances sensory perception and provides energy.  Some users describe a substantial increase in their ability to appreciate music and other aspects of a party. Ecstasy also increases arousal and reportedly leads to a more pleasurable sexual experience.
All of these effects are caused by the drug’s ability to influence different areas of the brain. The amygdala, hippocampus and basal ganglia are all affected by Ecstasy. These brain areas are part of the limbic system, a part of the brain that controls emotion, mood and overall energy level. Ecstasy also stimulates the neocortex, which governs perception, and the hypothalamus, which controls appetite.

Street Terms

When MDMA first became a recreational drug, it was often referred to as “Adam.” As the drug became more popular more nicknames were established. Ecstasy is the more common form, but in pill form, the drug is also referred to simple as “E,” “X” or “XTC.” When sold as a powder or in crystalline form, Ecstasy may also be referred to as “Molly” or “Mandy.”

In some instances, the street term for the drug changes depending on other additives or drugs mixed in. This combination of illicit drugs is highly dangerous and significantly enhances the risk of adverse effects and overdose.

Ecstasy Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

The signs and symptoms of Ecstasy abuse correlate with many signs of addiction to other drugs, but there are some effects that are directly linked to using Ecstasy specifically.

Like most other addicts, Ecstasy abusers will exhibit:

  • An obvious reduction in workplace efficiency
  • Anger when confronted about drug abuse
  • Domestic problems
  • Financial problems
  • Paranoia; only using Ecstasy in secret or when alone
  • An ability to ignore the adverse effects of the drug (both the physical and lifestyle problems)
  • Change of priorities, with obtaining and using Ecstasy trumping all other concerns

However, there are some signs that are linked specifically to Ecstasy abuse, such as:

  • History of consistent Ecstasy use
  • Inappropriate confidence even in dire situations
  • Mentioning mental, auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Decreased ability to feel pain
  • Increased appreciation for music, especially when under the influence

If you or your loved ones have these signs or symptoms, talk to a healthcare professional. Some form of therapy and treatment will be necessary to help control the abusive and addictive behavior.

Statistics on Use

Over 2.8 million Americans over the age of 12 have reported using Ecstasy within the previous year. Of those users, around 695,000 have abused Ecstasy within the past month and are labeled as current users of the drug, Drugs.com reports. These statistics place Ecstasy fourth among illicit drug use in America; marijuana is first, followed by the abuse of pain relievers and tranquilizer use.

Even more worrisome is the evidence that shows that even 8th grade students are abusing Ecstasy. In fact, 2.4 percent of 8th graders and 4.7 percent of 10th and 12th graders said they had used Ecstasy at least once. This high level of use in the young suggests that Ecstasy use has the potential to adversely effect society for years to come.

Ecstasy After-effects

After using Ecstasy for an extended period of time, addicts begin to experience aftereffects once the drug wears off.

Psychological effects that occur after Ecstasy use include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired cognitive function (attention and concentration)
  • Lack of motivation and drive
  • Residual feelings of empathy

Ecstasy use also causes some physiologic after-effects:

  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Jaw pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Body pain
  • Exhaustion

These after-effects are mostly related to the depletion of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Ecstasy causes an excess amount of serotonin production, but once the drug is excreted from the system, the body is left with insufficient levels of the neurotransmitter. Without serotonin, one’s body will experience the abovementioned after-effects. If these after-effects are noticed consistently in a loved one, especially in the mornings, there is a high chance that Ecstasy abuse is occurring.

Long-Term Effects

Over an extended period of time, Ecstasy causes long-term effects on the body. The most common effects are depression and anxiety even after the addict stops taking the drug. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of Ecstasy addicts display impaired short-term and visual memory. In some cases, users can decrease overall cognitive ability.

If you develop a rash after using Ecstasy, you are at risk of suffering from severe liver damage. Furthermore, taking Ecstasy while dehydrated places a strain on the kidneys and, over time, this can lead to kidney damage.

Ecstasy Overdose

Overdosing on Ecstasy is rare, but it can happen when someone takes more than one dose of the drug during a long party or rave. Each dose of Ecstasy adds to the adverse effects on the body.

Overdosing on the drug causes:

  • Hyperthermia (increased body temperature)
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Renal failure

These ramifications are caused by the substantial effects that multiple doses of Ecstasy have on the brain, especially the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that regulates heart rate, blood pressure, fluid balance, and, most importantly in the case of Ecstasy overdose, body temperature.

Overdosing on Ecstasy can be lethal because it causes a hyperthemic state along with muscle breakdown and kidney failure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns.  Furthermore, taking Ecstasy along with other drugs or alcohol increases the risk of overdose.  In one reported case, Ecstasy abuse at a rave resulted in at least one death and 18 hospitalizations.

The Need for Ecstasy Intervention and Treatment

Treating Ecstasy abuse requires a complex program. Most users are unable to kick their addiction without help. A healthcare professional, often a healthcare team, needs to provide a comprehensive plan that involves not only treating the patient, but also providing strategies to help prevent relapse.

Often the most difficult step is getting the Ecstasy user to admit the problem and seek treatment. A well-organized and professional intervention is one of the most successful methods to help users admit to their problem. Moreover, a proper intervention also provides a treatment option for the addict.

Even if the addict does not immediately seek treatment, an intervention can still impact the addict, and allow the addict’s family members to cope with any damage caused by their loved one’s addiction.

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