This club drug sometimes comes with some serious consequences. Learn more about the short-term and…
What is Ecstasy | Myths | Medical Uses | Side Effects | Treatment
What is Ecstasy?
Ecstasy is the slang or street name for MDMA, a popular drug with the clubbing and raving scene. It’s a powerful recreational drug that has both stimulating and tranquilizing properties. The energizing effects of MDMA keep users partying and dancing for hours without feeling tired. It also boosts self-confidence and encourages a sense of connection and empathy.
Though ecstasy, also called molly, is supposed to be a pure form of MDMA, that’s no longer the case. Pure MDMA is difficult to find nowadays. Ecstasy pills are often made from a variety of substances and some may not contain any MDMA at all. Drugs marketed as ecstasy may contain methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, or more. It’s difficult for users to determine what exactly their pills are made from without testing it.
Ecstasy usually comes in the form of brightly-colored pills. The pills come in different shapes and are stamped with different logos, often as cartoon characters. Users typically ingest the pills orally but some may inject the drug intravenously.
Are you interested in learning more about ecstasy? Continue reading to find out the effects of ecstasy, dangers of use, whether it has any medical use and more.
What is Ecstasy Made Of?
Ecstasy is made of MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. It’s a synthetic drug with chemical properties that are similar to both stimulants and tranquilizers, as well as some similarities to hallucinogens. Ecstasy is derived from amphetamine and its structure is comparable to methamphetamine. This creates the drug’s stimulating effects.
As ecstasy has become more popular, manufacturers started cutting it with different substances to keep costs down. What was once MDMA now usually contains amphetamine, methamphetamine, caffeine, cocaine, or other drugs. It’s common to find pills that contain a wide variety of substances with little to no MDMA in them.
The inconsistency with what ecstasy is made of makes it an unpredictable drug. It’s difficult or impossible to know exactly what is in it unless the user sends it for testing. People don’t do this before using their drugs, though, so ecstasy use can lead to some unexpected or dangerous outcomes.
Chemistry of Ecstasy
MDMA is classified as a substituted methylenedioxyphenethylamine and as well as a substituted amphetamine. The drug can be synthesized in numerous ways and is a more complicated substance to produce than other drugs like methamphetamine.
Ecstasy containing MDMA increases serotonin production in the brain. It limits or blocks the brain’s ability to clear out the excess “happy neurotransmitters”, causing MDMA intoxication. The drug also causes the brain to release notable amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine in addition to serotonin release.
The large release of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine causes an “emotional hangover” the following day. There’s a lack of the “feel good” neurotransmitters and which leads to feelings of sadness or depression, irritation, frustration, and anxiety. Ongoing ecstasy use and abuse can eventually damage the brain, causing both short- and long-term effects.
Who First Synthesized Ecstasy?
MDMA, the pure form of ecstasy, was first synthesized in the early twentieth century. Two German scientists, Mannish and Jacobsohn, were the first to discover the drug in 1912. They were working for Merck, the German chemical company, where they were working on finding medications to stop bleeding.
During their research, Mannish and Jacobsohn first synthesized ecstasy accidentally. They were trying to create a pharmaceutical drug but realized they created a psychoactive substance. Still, Merck patented MDMA for possible pharmaceutical use in 1914. It did not include any specific intended uses but was supposedly used as a diet pill for some time.
The United States Army and the CIA also made use of MDMA during the Cold War period. These administrations were searching for drugs that had the potential for use in psychological warfare. Their experiments included hallucinogenic substances like MDMA and LSD. Both drugs were included in their research for the MK-Ultra Project, a possible “mind control program.”
Though Mannish and Jacobsohn first synthesized ecstasy they didn’t do much with it afterward. Modern MDMA knowledge and research is credited to Alexander Shulgin, a biochemistry Ph.D. who worked at Dow Chemicals. He’s also reportedly the first human to use MDMA for its psychoactive properties.
How is Ecstasy Processed?
Ecstasy is a drug with an amphetamine-like chemical structure that’s usually made in a laboratory. Manufacturers must follow a specific process to produce pure MDMA. As long as they have the necessary equipment and supplies, most chemists are capable of producing the drug. For example, it’s much easier to process ecstasy than LSD.
The difficulties with processing ecstasy arise when trying to find the necessary ingredients. Regulations in the United States strictly oversee sales of the chemicals needed to produce MDMA, such as isosafrole and MDP2P. Someone who purchases large quantities of these chemicals quickly raises attention from law enforcement.
The difficulties with accessing ingredients mean that ecstasy is often processed outside the United States. It’s easier for manufacturers to produce the drug outside the country to avoid strict regulations. Then they can import the drug after production for widespread distribution and sale.
Issues with illicit drug production arise because of the absence of quality control. Though there are regulations on the supplies it takes to make the drugs, there’s no regulation on its production. People making ecstasy can put whatever they like into their supply and often substitute dangerous chemicals to cut costs. This results in a dangerous and unpredictable drug supply that could lead to lasting effects.
Is Ecstasy Legal?
Ecstasy is not legal and it is a controlled substance with the Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s classified as a Schedule I substance alongside other drugs like heroin, LSD, marijuana, and peyote. Its severe classification means the DEA sees it as having no accepted medical use as well as a high potential for abuse.
Possession of ecstasy can lead to legal consequences of varying degrees. The severity of charges for possession depends on where the person is, the amount in their possession, and whether they have any prior convictions. First-time offenses tend to be less severe in more lenient states. Those with multiple convictions may face some serious repercussions.
Even though ecstasy is a popular club and rave drug, possession and use are still illegal. It’s not approved for use in any type of setting at all, including for possible medicinal purposes. Though some clinicians believe there may be medical benefits to the drug, using it in a medical setting is still prohibited.
Street Names for Ecstasy
Since the drug is mainly bought, sold, and used illicitly, there are plenty of street names for ecstasy. The street names help both dealers and consumers be more discreet when talking about the drug. It’s commonly abused by teenagers and young adults so it’s important to know the possible slang terms used to refer to ecstasy.
First of all, the name ecstasy itself is a street name for MDMA. “Molly” is another common street name for ecstasy and one of the most frequently used. Still, there are more slang names for ecstasy including:
- Lover’s speed
- Love drug
- Hug drug
There are also slang terms used to describe being high on ecstasy, such as:
- Going on the roll
- Candy flipping (using both LSD and ecstasy at the same time)
- Hippie flipping (using both psilocybin mushrooms and ecstasy at the same time)
Ecstasy Myths & Facts
As with most illicit drugs, there is plenty of misinformation spread about ecstasy. False claims about the drug can put people at incredible risk if the person using it doesn’t realize they aren’t true. Understanding the differences between ecstasy myths and facts is crucial to keep people from harming themselves.
Myth: You can’t have a bad time on ecstasy
Ecstasy is known for being a fun, joy-inducing club drug. It releases massive amounts of dopamine, causing feelings of connection and happiness. That’s not the case for everyone, though. Some people experience bad reactions to ecstasy. There’s also the possibility that the drug is cut with another unknown substance and causes a poor response.
Fact: Ecstasy can produce effects similar to amphetamine or cocaine
The chemical structure of ecstasy is similar to stimulants like amphetamine and cocaine. This creates some amphetamine-like effects when people use the drug. Ecstasy is also sometimes cut with stimulants which only increases this effect.
Myth: Ecstasy acts as an antidepressant
Some people believe ecstasy acts as an antidepressant because it creates feelings of happiness and euphoria. In reality, though the drug causes a massive buildup and release of dopamine while the user is high, this leads to a depletion of dopamine the next day. Users feel down, depressed, and lethargic after using ecstasy. It’s far from being an antidepressant.
Fact: It’s impossible to know exactly what’s in an ecstasy pill
There are no quality control measures for ecstasy manufacturers. It’s an illegal drug so no regulations apply to the production process. There could be any number of substances in an ecstasy pill. Sometimes there is even little to no MDMA in the pills at all and it instead contains other stimulants, such as amphetamine.
Myth: Ecstasy is safer than other hard drugs
Ecstasy is no safer than any other hard drugs. Though it’s associated with feelings of positivity, it’s just as dangerous as many other illicit substances. Many manufacturers cut other substances into the drug, too. This makes it unreliable and dangerous to use as it puts users at risk of mixing drugs.
Fact: You can overdose on ecstasy
Ecstasy overdoses are possible. They differ from other drug overdoses, such as opioid or benzodiazepine overdoses, but ecstasy toxicity is possible. They are rarely lethal but taking too much of the drug causes dangerous elevations in body temperature that may cause long-term consequences.
Medical Uses of Ecstasy
Ecstasy use goes hand-in-hand with the rave and music festival scene. It’s a controlled substance and purchase, possession, and use of the drug is illegal. The understanding of medical uses for ecstasy is still very limited. There is one study that was published in The Lancet Psychiatry that looked at the use of MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The study involved 26 participants who received one of 3 different doses of MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions. One month after the second session, more participants in the high-dose group no longer met PTSD criteria. Researchers noted that 16 of the participants no longer suffered from PTSD after the one-year mark.
Though the study may indicate a slight potential for medical use, the research is far too limited to consider it reliable. People should never use MDMA on their own to treat a psychiatric condition. Professional help should always be consulted.
Recreational Uses of Ecstasy
Ecstasy has no widespread approved medical uses. The majority of use comes from recreational uses of ecstasy. It’s a stimulating drug most often associated with the rave, festival, music, and club scene. The drug encourages feelings of joy and togetherness which makes it popular for social use among young adults.
Why Do People Use Ecstasy?
People use ecstasy mostly in the all-night party scene because of its energizing properties. Users believe that it makes music sound better and claim it helps them feel more connected to their friends and fellow showgoers.
Throughout the 90s and into the 2000s ecstasy was most popular in the rave scene. Since then it’s become widely available in the drug market across the United States. This expanding availability combined with the enjoyable effects of the drug has led to a more diverse range of people using it.
What is Ecstasy Used For?
Ecstasy is most often used in the clubbing and rave scene to this day. Though a wider group of people have started using the drug, it still sees the majority of its use among club- and festival-goers around the world.
Ecstasy also has some minor experimental use among the medical community. The Food and Drug Administration initially labeled it as having no recognized or approved use in medicine. Following some recent research, though, the FDA reconsidered their initial position and approved it as a Breakthrough Therapy drug.
This means ecstasy can be used to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition. Clinicians are currently testing the benefits of combining psychotherapy with doses of ecstasy provided in controlled conditions. It’s currently being considered for use in very specific cases such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety in terminally ill patients
- Social anxiety in autistic adults
As researchers conduct more studies, there may eventually be a wider use for ecstasy in approved medical situations. People should never attempt to self-medicate with the drug, though, because there’s still potential for long-lasting negative effects.
How Does Ecstasy Work?
Ecstasy produces its euphoric, stimulating effects by increasing the activity of three chemicals in the brain: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Each chemical has a slightly different job which ecstasy amplifies when used.
Dopamine is responsible for increased energy and activity levels. It also functions as the “reward system” in the brain which encourages users to try the drug again, reinforcing their behavior.
Norepinephrine increases the user’s heart rate and blood pressure. These side effects of ecstasy use are especially risky for individuals who have preexisting problems with their heart or blood vessels.
Serotonin, often thought of as the “happy chemical,” affects mood, sleep, appetite, and other functions. Increased serotonin levels are also responsible for the feelings of sexual arousal and trust caused by ecstasy use. It also creates a sense of emotional closeness, empathy, and elevated mood in users.
The effects of one hit of ecstasy last between 3 and 6 hours. Users tend to ingest multiple hits over the course of a few hours to maintain their high while partying. Since ecstasy works by releasing massive amounts of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, the crash that comes after the high is significant.
How Long Does Ecstasy Stay in Your System?
When you take ecstasy, you usually start to feel the effects within 30 minutes of ingesting the drug. While the exact onset time depends on how you take it, you’ll experience peak effects around 60 to 90 minutes after ingesting the drug. The full effects of an ecstasy high typically last between 3 and 6 hours.
You’ll notice mild feelings of warmth and euphoria at first, then the sensations of openness, empathy, and heightened senses set in. Effects are strongest during the peak period of the high but continue in a more mild form. Users often ingest multiple doses over time to keep their high going for longer.
Residual traces of ecstasy stay in your system can pop up on a drug test for some time after using it. The length of time the drug stays in your system depends on the type of drug test used. For example, drug tests using hair detect ecstasy for longer than tests using blood or saliva.
The lengths of time ecstasy stays in your system are as follows:
- Saliva: up to 2 days
- Urine: up to 4 days
- Blood: up to 2 days
- Hair: up to 90 days
How Does Ecstasy Affect the Brain?
Ecstasy affects the brain by raising activity levels of three specific neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Each neurotransmitter is responsible for different feelings and reactions throughout your mind and body. When ecstasy boosts the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, it affects your energy levels, mood, appetite, trust, emotions, sexual behaviors, and sleep.
The more you take, the stronger the effects ecstasy has on your brain. You can also alter the way ecstasy affects the brain by mixing it with alcohol or other substances. Many users choose to combine the drug with other substances to heighten its effects or allow them to take more of it.
The ways ecstasy affects the brain also depend on the way you take the drug. There are two main ways users take ecstasy: orally in pill or tablet form, or crushing the pills into powder and snorting them. It can also be smoked or injected but the other two methods of ingestion are most common.
Side Effects and Dangers of Ecstasy
Though it’s usually associated with the excitement and joy of a music festival, there are also side effects and dangers of ecstasy use. Not everyone experiences the same fun high when using the drug. There are various short- and long-term effects of ecstasy as well as some potential dangers that come with use.
Whether you develop any short-term effects of ecstasy use depends on a few factors. These include things like your overall health, how much you used, and whether you combined it with any other substances. The following are some of the short-term effects of using ecstasy.
Uncontrollable jaw clenching and teeth grinding is a common short-term effect of ecstasy. Many people chew gum, eat hard candy, or keep a baby pacifier in their mouth to lessen the intensity of the clenching.
Ecstasy can cause muscle cramps during use.
Nausea or vomiting
Some people experience nausea, vomiting, or other gastrointestinal distress when using the drug.
Sweating or Hyperthermia
Another short-term effect of ecstasy is excessive sweating. The drug can also cause hyperthermia, or overheating, which can be serious if not attended to.
Using ecstasy lowers inhibitions causing poor decision-making skills which can result in risky or dangerous behaviors.
Ecstasy use can cause short-term vision problems such as blurry vision or a noticeable sensitivity to light.