What is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is most commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly. It is a laboratory-made drug that produces a “high” similar to the stimulants called amphetamines. It also produces psychedelic effects, similar to the hallucinogens mescaline and LSD. MDMA first became popular in the nightclub scene, at “raves” (all-night dance parties), and music festivals or concerts. It is now used by a broader range of people. The drug’s effects generally last from 3 to 6 hours.
MDMA is a Schedule I substance, which means that the U.S. Government has determined that it has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Researchers, however, continue to investigate the possible medical benefits, for example, with patients that have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal cancer patients with anxiety. However, patients in those studies are under strict medical supervision.
How MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) is Used
Most people who use MDMA take it in a pill, tablet, or capsule. The pills can be different colors and sometimes have cartoon-like images on them. Some people take more than one pill at a time, called “bumping.” The popular term “Molly” (slang for molecular) refers to the pure crystalline powder form of MDMA, usually sold in capsules. But this is mostly a marketing gimmick—testing on “Molly” seized by police shows a variety of other ingredients.
In fact, researchers and law enforcement have found that much of the Ecstasy sold today contains other harmful and possibly deadly drugs. In some recent cases, drugs sold as MDMA actually contain no MDMA at all. Frequently, MDMA is mixed with or replaced by synthetic cathinones, the chemicals in “bath salts”. Some MDMA pills, tablets, and capsules have also been found to contain caffeine, dextromethorphan (found in some cough syrups), amphetamines, PCP, or cocaine.
What happens to your brain when you use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
Once an MDMA pill or capsule is swallowed, it takes about 15 minutes for the drug to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. MDMA produces its effects by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Let’s take a look at the importance of these chemicals:
- Serotonin—plays a role in controlling our mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and feelings of pain. The extra serotonin that is released by MDMA likely causes mood-lifting effects in users. People who use MDMA might feel very alert, or “hyper,” at first. Some experience altered sense of time and other changes in perception, such as a more intense sense of touch. Serotonin also triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which play a role in feelings of love, sexual arousal, and trust. This may be why users report feeling a heightened sense of emotional closeness and empathy.
- Dopamine—helps to control movement, motivation, emotions, and sensations like pleasure. The extra dopamine is linked to continued cravings for the drug.
- Norepinephrine—increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people who have problems with their heart and blood circulation.
Because MDMA increases the activity of these chemicals, some users experience negative effects. They may become anxious and agitated, become sweaty, have chills, or feel faint or dizzy.
Even those who don’t feel negative effects during use can experience bad after-effects. Even weeks later, people can experience confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and anxiety, because the surge of serotonin caused by MDMA reduces the brain’s supply of this important chemical.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs. And, check out how the brain responds to natural rewards and to drugs.
What happens to your brain when you use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
The changes that take place in the brain with MDMA use affect the user in several ways. These include:
- increases in heart rate and blood pressure
- muscle tension
- teeth clenching
- lowered inhibition (doing things and making decisions that your normally wouldn’t)
- nausea (feeling sick) and possible vomiting
- blurred vision
- dizziness and faintness
- chills or sweating
- higher body temperature (can lead to serious heart, liver, or kidney problems)
- increased risk for unsafe sex
Because MDMA does not always break down in the body, it can interfere with its own metabolism. This can cause harmful levels of the drug to build up in the body if it is taken repeatedly within short periods of time. High levels of the drug in the bloodstream can increase the risk for seizures and affect the heart’s ability to beat normally.
Mixing MDMA with alcohol can decrease some of alcohol’s effects.
Researchers are not sure if MDMA causes long-term brain changes or if such effects are reversible when someone stops using the drug. However, studies have shown that some heavy MDMA users experience problems that are long lasting, including confusion, depression, and problems with memory and attention.
What are “Party Drugs”/MDMA/Ecstasy?
In Australia, MDMA/Ecstasy are also known as E, pills, caps, pingers, M&M, doopa, love drug, disco biscuits, XTC, X and eccy.
“Party Drugs” is a term used to describe a range of illegal drugs sold as tablets (“pills”) or capsules (“caps”). Ecstasy is the common name for a drug called MDMA, which is usually sold as a pill or capsule, although it can also come in powder or crystal form. When sold as a pill, a logo is typically stamped on the tablet, but this is no guarantee of quality or purity. For example, two pills that look the same may have very different effects as they can have different ingredients.
Analysis of drugs sold as MDMA/ecstasy in Australia shows that these contain a wide range of substances, and some contain no MDMA at all. Some substances found in these drugs can be toxic, even at low doses and even pure MDMA can be dangerous.
How many young people have tried “Party Drugs
According to the 2017 Australian Secondary Schools’ Survey, 1 in 50 students (2%) aged 12-17 used MDMA/ecstasy in the past month.
What are the effects of “Party Drugs
MDMA/Ecstasy causes the body’s central nervous system to speed up. It can take effect within 60 minutes of initially taking it but this can vary. Sometimes people mistakenly think the first pill or cap they took isn’t working and take more — this can be very dangerous.
The effects of MDMA/ecstasy can be immediate or long-term, as listed in the table below.
|Enlarged pupils||Dependence (see glossary)|
|Increased heart rate and blood pressure||Long-term problems with depression|
|Increased energy||Liver problems|
|Feeling of euphoria (a ‘high’)||Impairments to memory and attention|
|Teeth grinding and jaw clenching|
|Anxiety and panic attacks|
|Overheating and dehydration (when the body loses more water than it takes in)|
|A ‘comedown’ (see glossary)|
|Nausea, vomiting and dizziness|
|Visual distortions (things looking weird or different)|
|Paranoia (feeling extremely suspicious and frightened)|
|Psychosis (see glossary)|
|Serotonin syndrome (see glossary)|