Ecstasy or MDMA is a pill that is easy to find at many concerts, clubs, or parties. It is easy to become tolerant of ecstasy, which increases its potential for addiction and dependence.
The full name for ecstasy or MDMA is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it can work as both a hallucinogen and stimulant.
Ecstasy is also known by its common street nicknames, such as love drug, E, XTC, dove, and Molly. The substance is usually sold as a tablet, and it may come in many colors.
The Government of Canada states that some sellers stamp logos on the tablets, but this is no guarantee that the tablets are what they claim they are. Some might not even contain any ecstasy at all.
MDMA is usually taken because it can induce feelings of euphoria, and it makes people feel friendly and open. In addition, it can provide a feeling of stamina that makes people feel as if they can keep dancing longer.
How Ecstasy Became Popular
Ecstasy was first invented in Germany in 1912, and it slowly made its way outside the country. In the 1970s, ecstasy became a popular substance to help talk therapy patients, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Doctors believed it helped patients to open up more in therapy.
Trials with human subjects were never approved, however. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration never approved ecstasy for therapeutic use.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration added it to its list of illegal substances in 1985 and declared that it is not useful for medical reasons.
Today, a limited amount of scientists feels ecstasy has the potential to help people who have anxiety or even post-traumatic stress syndrome.
How Ecstasy Addiction Works
Taking ecstasy causes a feeling of euphoria because it floods the brain with three neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, known to communicate feelings of pleasure and well-being: norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.
These hormones are key to understanding ecstasy misuse.
Dopamine assists with concentration and mood regulation.
Serotonin keeps emotions in check and plays a role in managing digestion, reactions to pain, and the circadian rhythm (sleep cycle).
Norepinephrine regulates mood, including a person’s “fight-or-flight” response during stressful events.
The Government of Canada warns that using ecstasy consistently can result in tolerance, which aids in addiction forming.
As stated by NIDA, ecstasy also increases impulsiveness in some people. This is also a symptom of addiction.
Effects of Regular Misuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse mentions that ecstasy is less addictive than drugs like cocaine, at least in studies involving laboratory animals.
Though the risks of becoming addicted to ecstasy are not as high as with other substances, ecstasy is addictive because it changes the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin.
A person who takes ecstasy will feel its effects from anywhere from three to six hours. Regular users of ecstasy are aware of the approximate length of its influence and may take an additional tablet to continue their high.
This puts people at risk of some of ecstasy’s well-known side effects.
Changes in Temperature
Ecstasy is known to increase a person’s temperature, which can lead to dehydration, and it could possibly be fatal.
Some people may drink too much water to fend off the side effects of a high temperature, which could change their electrolyte levels.
The Government of Canada states that this becomes more dangerous in hot environments, such as raves and concerts. A person’s organs can stop working correctly if they reach temperatures of 42° C (107.6° F). Per NIDA, this rise in temperature could be fatal.
Reduction in Serotonin Levels
Animal studies published by NIDA show that using ecstasy on a regular basis can harm serotonin-containing cells. Scientists believe this is what makes an MDMA crash so difficult to deal with in the days after use.
A decrease in this chemical can cause various problems, such as unreliable memory, confusion, and depression.
Changes in Libido
Ecstasy use could harm a person’s ability to become sexually aroused.
Changes to Impulse Control
Ecstasy may affect parts of the brain that help a person set goals and focus on positive rewards. This may make it easier to become addicted to MDMA.
Using Ecstasy for a Long Time Causes Negative Physical Outcomes.
- Weight loss
Physical dependency on ecstasy is rare. However, people who take ecstasy commonly take other substances of abuse, such as marijuana or alcohol. This makes it hard for scientists to fully understand ecstasy’s effects on addiction rates alone because the majority of ecstasy users do not use it on its own.
Fake ecstasy pills are another obstacle in truly understanding the addiction potential of ecstasy. People may buy ecstasy pills but receive something completely different than what they paid for.
Rates of Ecstasy Misuse
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2014 reports that up to 17 million school-aged Americans had tried ecstasy at least once.
NIDA did its own survey in 2016, and it found that 1 percent of 8th graders, 1.8 percent of 10th graders, and 2.7 percent of 12th graders used ecstasy within the past year.
Teen ecstasy users tended to be male. NIDA also found that:
- Men between the ages of 18 and 25 tended to use ecstasy, and the average age for users was 21.
- Bisexual and gay men tended to use ecstasy in higher numbers than heterosexual (straight) men.
A 2014 study published on Substance Use and Misuse found that teenagers who fit the criteria below were less likely to try ecstasy:
- Women and students in religious institutions
- Black and Latino (non-white) students
- Students who lived in two-parent households
The Same Study Also Found that Students Were More Likely to Try Ecstasy If:
- They had tried something else before, such as cigarettes, alcohol, or another drug.
- They lived in an urban area.
- They had an allowance of at least $10 per week or a job where they earned $50 or more per week.
The Popularity of Ecstasy Compared to Other Drugs
Ecstasy is most popular in club and rave environments.
In July 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that marijuana is the most popular drug in the United States. Some of the reasons why marijuana is used so often are that some states have legalized it, and it has some medical uses as well.
The 2018 report also ranks other drugs that are more popular than ecstasy.
Often called fake weed, these are chemicals that are often added to plants that can be smoked, or they can be sold as a liquid to be used in vapes (e-cigarettes). They are often sold as an alternative to marijuana, but they may have more serious side effects.
Over-The-Counter and Prescription Medications
Misuse is defined as using these drugs for recreational reasons or for a purpose they were not meant to serve. Virtually any over-the-counter or prescription medication can be abused. The following are commonly abused:
- Dextromethorphan (cough syrup)
- Opioids, which are used to treat pain
- Stimulants, such as Ritalin and other medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Central nervous system depressants, including benzodiazepines like Xanax
The legal status of alcohol makes it easy for people to misuse it.
Often called anabolic steroids, these drugs are lab-produced versions of testosterone, a male sex hormone. Their use is sometimes legal if prescribed for certain conditions that cause a person to grow less muscle or those who have growth issues.
Steroids are often misused by athletes who want to increase their strength levels.
NIDA reports that other drugs are more popular than ecstasy, including cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and hallucinogens such as ayahuasca.
Why Ecstasy is Addictive
Reports from NIDA show that researchers are still figuring out exactly what makes MDMA addictive. They have some theories.
- Brain images show that when people who have been consistently using MDMA stop taking it, they start having problems with memory and may have difficulty processing their emotions.
- Ecstasy causes a large influx of serotonin, which triggers a pronounced crash when coming down off the drug. This may make some people crave additional ecstasy to lessen the effects of the comedown.
Many studies on people who use ecstasy are missing key information that could help the public understand who might be more vulnerable to addiction. As of now, NIDA states that these criteria may influence who becomes addicted to ecstasy or who does not:
- Age when ecstasy was first taken
- Environmental factors
- Additional drug use habits
- Patterns in a person’s use (dose and frequency)
Taking these factors into account can provide a better picture of the possibility of addiction to ecstasy.