Ecstasy is a popular name for a drug abbreviated as MDMA (which stands for methylenedioxymethamphetamine). It is also known by other names such as Molly, X, or E. As indicated by the name, ecstasy is an amphetamine, meaning it is a stimulant. However, ecstasy differs from other stimulants due to the fact that it also possesses hallucinogenic effects. Ecstasy can cause euphoria, an increase in energy, a feeling of empathy, distortion in perception of time, increased alertness, and a distortion in sensory perception.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that ecstasy is generally taken as a capsule or tablet. The effects of the drug can begin in as little as 30 minutes and last approximately 3-6 hours. Ecstasy is sometimes taken in combination with other drugs, such as cocaine and alcohol.
Ecstasy can cause uncomfortable side effects, such as:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid heart rate
As with many drugs of abuse, there are various myths about ecstasy. These myths surround its effects, its addictiveness, its dangers, and its uses. We’ll explore some of the most common myths about ecstasy abuse here.
Myth: Ecstasy causes holes in the brain.
Ecstasy does have an effect on the brain, as it increases the activity of three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is associated with the release of the hormones vasopressin and oxytocin, both of which are involved in feelings of love and trust; serotonin also affects certain physical needs, such the need for sleep and overall appetite.
The claim that ecstasy will cause holes to form in the brain was likely started when researchers discovered that the drug appears to damage neurons containing dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter associated with the reward center in the brain. According to the University of Notre Dame, this degeneration is the underlying cause of certain signs of Parkinson’s disease, such as tremors and lack of coordination. In truth, ecstasy can negatively effect the brain; however, it does not cause holes in the brain.
Myth: Ecstasy is not dangerous.
According to some, ecstasy is not as dangerous as other illicit drugs, per The Guardian; however, ecstasy still causes numerous negative effects on the body. Individuals with heart problems should avoid ecstasy, as it can cause a risky increase in heart rate and blood pressure. NIDA warns that other effects may include:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle tension
Although rare, ecstasy in high doses can also cause a drastic increase in body temperature, called hyperthermia, which can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and cardiovascular system, as well as death. It can also build up in the body’s system, increasing the risk of negative effects if users “piggyback,” which the Drug Enforcement Administration describes as taking several doses of ecstasy over a short period of time. The DEA also lists ecstasy as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no approved medical use.
Myth: Ecstasy is used to treat depression.
Serotonin, one of the main transmitters ecstasy affects, is one that contributes to depression. When individuals use ecstasy, the drug acts on serotonin receptors, and users experience euphoria, which is an extreme elevation in mood. The euphoria is the result of a drastic increase in the amount of serotonin released by the brain.
When the effects of the drug wear off, individuals may experience profound depression. When such high amounts of serotonin are released, it depletes the supply of the neurotransmitter in the brain, meaning the brain needs to replenish its supply. For a period of time after the effects of ecstasy have worn off, some individuals will experience a depressed mood. There is not a set amount of time that is needed for this replenishment of serotonin, but certain factors are involved, such as how much ecstasy was used and whether or not the individual already experiences depression. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional can determine if there is an underlying mental illness at play.
Since ecstasy can cause effects similar to those of psychoactive drugs, it can also make symptoms of depression, psychosis, and anxiety worse while under the influence of the medication. While individuals suffering from depression may attempt to self-medicate with ecstasy in an effort to experience euphoria, their depression is often worsened in the aftermath of use.
Fact: Ecstasy can be used to treat PTSD.
An article published by National Public Radio announced that the United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved clinical studies to evaluate the use of MDMA for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Another article, published by Marie Claire, agrees with the stance that MDMA can be beneficial to those in treatment for PTSD, stating that the drug is not viewed as a medication, but as a facilitator to therapy.
In fact, in a previous clinical trial, a group of individuals participated in therapy assisted by MDMA. Upon completion of the trial, 83 percent of the group no longer fit the diagnosis for PTSD. In comparison, a group using behavioral talk therapy alone showed that only 25 percent of participants seemed to recover from PTSD.
It is important to remember that recreational ecstasy and therapeutic MDMA are not the same drug. This is because only some of the ecstasy seized and tested by the DEA was found to be pure MDMA. Because of this, individuals seeking to self-medicate with ecstasy face significant risks.
NIDA states that MDMA was in fact used in the 1970s in conjunction with behavioral therapy, without the approval of the FDA, however.