What is ecstasy?
Ecstasy is the street name for the drug MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine); it is a drug with psychoactive effects whose addiction liability is largely underestimated by regular users. Ecstasy possesses a chemical structure that is similar to the stimulant amphetamine and psychedelic mescaline and has properties of both. Ecstasy is made in laboratories and is not found in nature. Different chemicals are required to produce ecstasy. The four principal precursors for ecstasy are safrole, isosafrole, piperonal and 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone (PMK). These chemicals are tightly regulated in many countries.
How is ecstasy used?
A few years after it was discovered, ecstasy was studied for its possible use in psychiatric counselling. However, the widespread recreational use of ecstasy led to its criminalization in most countries. In fact, ecstasy has no medical use today.
In the streets, ecstasy is often available in tablets with different colors and shapes. Ecstasy tablets dispensed by dealers have questionable purities and may contain adulterants. Ecstasy is also available in crystal form. Recently, ecstasy in pure (and more powerful) forms is also becoming available, which appears as white to off-white powder soluble in water. Since ecstasy is available in tablets, it is usually taken orally. Some users use powdered ecstasy by smoking or snorting it, and rarely, inject it. There are also reports of users taking ecstasy by inserting it into the anus.
Ecstasy has a stimulating and sensation-altering effect when taken. Ecstasy also has psychedelic effect, which means that it can induce altered cognition and perception. Users report having distorted visual, auditory and sensory perceptions. They can also feel an increased sense of intimacy with other people including strangers. In addition, users high on ecstasy feel new and novel sensations, like “hearing” colors or “feeling” sounds.
The first effects of ecstasy include profuse sweating, jaw clenching and grinding of the teeth. These effects are often followed by a sensation of “pins and needles”, dryness of the mouth and irresistible urge to move about, and/or blurred vision. During its peak, effects ecstasy causes euphoria and increased sense of energy and users report having reduced anxiety.
Effects of ecstasy include:
- blurred vision
- distorted visual, auditory and sensory perceptions
- dryness of the mouth
- feelings of increased energy
- grinding of the teeth
- increased sense of intimacy with other people
- irresistible urges to move about
- jaw clenching
- profuse sweating
- reduced anxiety
- sensation of “pins and needles”
Ecstasy is often available and used during dance parties in bars, concerts and organized raves. Abusing ecstasy makes you feel able to dance or perform vigorous physical activity for several hours. This increases risk of having serious dehydration and having dangerous body core hypothermia that can lead to death. High doses of ecstasy also overwork the brain and the heart, causing seizures and hypertension. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to determine the exact ingredients in ecstasy tablets, which may contain substances like caffeine, stimulants and other addictive drugs that can cause harm to health.
Ecstasy effects manifest within 30-60 minutes of use, and these effects peak about 1-2 hours later, lasting for about 3.5 hours. After this, a comedown effect sets in. During this comedown effect, users report having fatigue and feelings of depression, anxiety and paranoia, irritability and impaired focus, concentration and attention. Psychological symptoms, including depression, confusion, insomnia and anxiety and paranoia, can occur as residual effect of ecstasy use, and these symptoms may last for weeks after last drug use.
Is ecstasy addictive?
Unlike other psychoactive drugs, physical dependence to ecstasy is rarely formed. However, users can become psychologically dependent on ecstasy. In these cases, regular use can turn into habitual use which compels users to use ecstasy to feel normal. Signs of ecstasy addiction include:
- compulsion to use ecstasy
- continued use of ecstasy despite negative life consequences
- craving ecstasy
- using ecstasy in high doses or more often than intended (loss of control)
For more information on ecstasy, see: