Ecstasy effects

How does ecstasy affect the brain, body, and organs? A brief review of the effects of ecstasy on the body system here.

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Ecstasy is the common name for MDMA, a combination of methylenedioxyphenethylamine and amphetamines. It is a central nervous stimulant that can affect not only the brain, but also different systems of the body. So what are the main effects of ecstasy?

The effects of ecstasy vary from person to person. How ecstasy affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken around the same time. The side effects of ecstasy also depend on the amount taken.

Here, we review some of the basic systems of the body and the negative effects of ecstasy on them. Then, we invite your questions about the main effects of ecstasy, or its addiction liability and treatment at the end. We try to respond to all legitimate questions with a personal and prompt reply.

Ecstasy effects on the body

Ecstasy can produce a variety of adverse health effects, including:

  • chills
  • involuntary muscle cramping
  • nausea
  • sweating

Because of its stimulant properties and the environments in which it is often taken, ecstasy is associated with vigorous physical activity for extended periods. This can lead to one of the most significant, although rare, acute adverse effects—a marked rise in body temperature (hyperthermia). Treatment of hyperthermia requires prompt medical attention, as it can rapidly lead to muscle breakdown, which can in turn result in kidney failure.

Ecstasy effects on the mind

In the hours after taking the drug, ecstasy produces significant reductions in mental abilities. These changes, particularly those affecting memory, can last for up to a week, and possibly longer in regular users. The fact that ecstasy markedly impairs information processing emphasizes the potential dangers of performing complex or skilled activities, such as driving a car, while under the influence of this drug.

Ecstasy effects on the brain

Ecstasy affects the brain by increasing the activity of at least three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Like other amphetamines, ecstasy causes these neurotransmitters to be released from their storage sites in neurons, resulting in increased neurotransmitter activity.

The excess release of serotonin by ecstasy likely causes the mood elevating effects experienced by ecstasy users. However, by releasing large amounts of serotonin, ecstasy causes the brain to become significantly depleted of this important neurotransmitter, contributing to the negative behavioral aftereffects that users often experience for several days after taking ecstasy. Furthermore, there are a battery of long term effects of ecstasy on the brain, including:

  • changes in regulation of aggression
  • changes in aggression in mood
  • changes in regulation of sleep

Ecstasy effects on the nervous system

Elevated anxiety, impulsiveness, and aggression, as well as sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, and reduced interest in and pleasure from sex have been observed in regular ecstasy users. Some of these disturbances may not be directly attributable to ecstasy, but may be related to some of the other drugs often used in combination with ecstasy, such as cocaine or marijuana, or to adulterants commonly found in ecstasy tablets.

Ecstasy effects on dopamine

Like all psychoactive drugs that produce a sensation of pleasure, ecstasy also increases the release of dopamine into the reward circuit. In addition, the extra serotonin produced by ecstasy leads indirectly to excitement of the dopaminergic neurons by the serotonergic neurons that connect to them.

Ecstasy effects on personality and behavior

Over the course of a week following moderate use of the drug, many MDMA users report feeling a range of emotions, including anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and sadness that in some individuals can be as severe as true clinical depression.

Ecstasy effects on the heart

Ecstasy abuse remains a societal problem in developed nations despite two decades of research indicating that the acute positive effects of ecstasy (e.g. euphoria, intense empathy for others, and extreme relaxation) coincide with numerous negative effects such as

  • hypertension
  • tachycardia
  • indirect cardiac stressors associated with suppression of appetite, thirst, and sleep

In fact, numerous studies show that ecstasy increases heart rate. Ecstasy produce profound acute effects on cardiovascular physiology that may lead to cardiotoxicity and increased susceptibility for heart-related fatalities, in addition to producing neurocognitive and neurobehavioral deficits.

Ecstasy effects on heart rate

Hypertension and heart failure may occur in susceptible individuals. MDMA can also reduce the pumping efficiency of the heart, of particular concern during periods of increased physical activity, further complicating these problems.

Ecstasy effects on blood pressure

Ecstasy overdose can also occur, the symptoms of which can include high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and in severe cases, a loss of consciousness and seizures.

Ecstasy effects on blood sugar

Ecstasy can suppress appetite and cause the user to not feel the need for rest. For people with diabetes, this is particularly concerning. Being unaware of whether you need a rest or not can result in hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, especially if the drug is taken whilst dancing. This could ultimately lead to a hypogylcemic state.

Ecstasy effects on the liver

Liver damage, which may have an immunological cause, has been seen in a small number of users of MDMA. It is not clear to what extent liver toxicity is caused by ecstasy or other compounds found in ecstasy tablets. Animal studies suggest ecstasy can cause liver damage and that the risk and extent of liver damage is increased by high body temperature.

Ecstasy effects on the lungs

Cases of collapsed lung (pneumothorax) have been linked to ecstasy use, and users can suffer from exercise-induced asthma.

Ecstasy effects on teeth

Ecstasy users almost always experience bruxism (teeth grinding) and trismus (jaw clenching) as a short-term effect from the drug. Many users of ecstasy alleviate this by using chewing gum or chewing on improvised mouth guards (such as a small plastic glow stick or pacifier). Temporary jaw ache often results from jaw clenching or excessive chewing. Some users consume supplemental magnesium tablets to relax the jaw muscles and relieve clenching, although this practice has not been formally studied. In extreme cases, ecstasy use has been associated with excessive wear of teeth and resulting dental problems.

Ecstasy effects on the nose, ears, and throat

If you snort ecstasy you may get chemical burn in nose and mouth (also when you eat anything with sugar will also give you chemical burn so if you get gum get sugar free gum or chew on some straws its amazing but be careful not to cut your mouth up some people do, but Do NOT chew the insides of your mouth it not only hurts the next day but may swell up your mouth). Excessive use will create holes in the nose and brain making your nose soft from it eating the cartilage. Nose bleeds occur during excessive use; you may experience nose bleeds at random times, and if you only done XTC a few times, your nose may only bleed a day to a week after use.

Ecstasy effects on eyes and pupils

Using ecstasy causes blurred vision. The effects include:

  • pupils will dilate
  • the eyes will be wide open
  • you`ll be wide awake (couldn’t sleep if you wanted to)

Ecstasy effects on women

Women who use ecstasy can also be affected, and may experience:

  • ovulatory dysfunction
  • menstrual irregularities
  • reduced ovarian reserves

Ecstasy effects on the menstrual cycle and birth control

The consumption of ecstasy can increase menstruation pains, can impact fertility, and impact the monthly cycle [irregular or skipped periods]. Still, you may get pregnant. Protect yourself from unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases by using condoms.

Ecstasy effects on pregnancy

When pregnant women use ecstasy, it passes from the maternal bloodstream and enters the bloodstream of the developing fetus. Current evidence from both animal and human testing indicates that fetal exposure to ecstasy can lead to a number of potential problems, including altered brain development in the first trimester of pregnancy, changes in newborn behavior related to this alteration, and delayed development of normal motor function (coordinated muscle movement) in the middle and latter stages of pregnancy.

Ecstasy effects on a fetus

Given that most ecstasy users are young and in their reproductive years, it is possible that some female users may be pregnant when they take ecstasy, either inadvertently or intentionally because of the misperception that it is a safe drug. The potential adverse effects of ecstasy on the developing fetus are of great concern. Behavioral studies in animals have found significant adverse effects on tests of learning and memory from exposure to ecstasy during a developmental period equivalent to the third trimester in humans.

Ecstasy effects on breast milk

There is no published information on ecstasy excretion into breast milk. However, because of the effect that ecstasy has on the body, here are additional harm minimization strategies for breastfeeding:

  1. Breast feed the infant prior to ecstasy use
  2. DO NOT breast feed for 24 – 48 hours after ecstasy use

Ecstasy effects on sperm

Street drugs, including ecstasy have all been shown to have dramatic affects on male and female fertility. Long-term use of these drugs can lead to permanent reproductive problems and could prevent you from becoming pregnant. Men who use ecstasy often suffer from:

  • abnormally-shaped sperm
  • poor sperm count
  • reduced libido
Reference Sources: NIDA: What are the effects of MDMA?
NIDA: What does MDMA do to the brain?
Drug Addiction Treatment: Effects of ecstasy use during pregnancy
Mc Gill: The brain: How drugs affect neurotransmitters
Diabetes Organization: Ecstasy and Diabetes
NCBI: Cardiac effects of MDMA on the metabolic profile determined with 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the rat
Wikipedia: Effects of MDMA on the human body
Mapinc: UK: The Drugs And Their Effects
Womens health:The Effects of Drugs on Fertility
Drugscouts: Ecstasy
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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