What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy is the name for MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine). MDMA (and its close relation MDA) are classified as enactogens, drugs that have stimulant, hallucinogenic and mood-improving qualities. It was originally developed as a diet aid. Before it was made illegal in 1985, it was used experimentally by mental health professionals in controlled settings to help people in couple's counseling. It began to be used illicitly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though ecstasy use remains rare, its use among teenagers showed an increase from 2005 to 2008.

What is molly?

Molly is another slang term for MDMA.  It has effects similar to those of other stimulants.  Molly was a term originally used to denote pure MDMA, usually powdered and in a capsule. This is no longer the case.  Molly is often a mystery powder and can contain any number of substances, some which even mimic similar effects of MDMA. They can also cause severe health consequences ranging from allergic responses to temperature regulation issues to panic attacks. Some common cuts [adulterants] are PMA/PMMA, Methamphetamine, 2-C(x), and Cathinones including Mephedrone, Methylone (bk-MDMA), Butylone, MDPV, and 2-MEC or 4-MEC. 

The information on this page applies to molly as well as ecstasy.

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How is ecstasy used?

Ecstasy is almost always swallowed in 60 to 120 mg pills. It is very infrequently snorted or taken in a liquid form through injection. The strength and contents of Ecstasy tablets cannot be known accurately. Sometimes these pills are stamped with symbols (like clover leafs, horseshoes, or smiley faces) as underground brand names or identifying markers. However, these symbols do not mean that a pill is pure or safe. All ecstasy available on the street is produced in unregulated black market laboratories.

Why do people take ecstasy?

Ecstasy produces a euphoric high that lasts from 3 to 4 hours by generating a rush of serotonin and a smaller amount of dopamine, the neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood. Serotonin is the brain chemical that many antidepressants regulate. Users describe ecstasy as making them empathic, producing a temporary state of openness. Depending on its contents, ecstasy can also cause mild hallucinogenic effects. Users report that the rush of serotonin is pleasurable and produces both an emotionally relaxed and physically exhilarated state. However, this extremely fast deployment of serotonin can deplete normal serotonin levels and produce depression or malaise after the drug wears off.

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Are there short-term dangers of taking Ecstasy?

Pills sold as ecstasy may not be ecstasy at all. MDMA purchased on the street is frequently laced with other drugs like cocaine, heroine, PCP, or toxic chemicals like PMA and DXM, atropine, and rat poison. In a 1996 study of Ecstasy content, 19 out of 33 pills (58%) were found to contain less than 25% MDMA. Only 5 pills (15%) were more than 75% MDMA.

Second, users report a number of side effects, including:

  • Heatstroke (also known as hyperthermia)
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Blurred vision
  • Faintness
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Teeth clenching
  • Day-after depression

Ecstasy raises your body temperature and heart rate. Combine this with hot conditions, the physical activity of dancing in a party or club, and not drinking water, and the greatest immediate danger of MDMA is heatstroke. Heatstroke (or hyperthermia) is the primary cause of death from ecstasy. Someone taking ecstasy should make sure to drink about a pint of water every hour while on ecstasy, sipping, rather than drinking it all at once. Also, taking breaks from dancing on a hot dance floor to cool off is an important way to reduce the risk of heatstroke.

Ecstasy causes the release of norepinephrine, which increases your heart rate dramatically and can be dangerous for people with cardiovascular disease or weakness. Dehydration can also lead to liver or kidney failure. Some people report bad emotional reactions to ecstasy including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia, sometimes lasting long after taking the drug. Using ecstasy with alcohol and/or other drugs can increase the risk of adverse effects. Alcohol is dehydrating, too, and its depressant effects can mask the stimulant properties of ecstasy misleading the user about how intoxicated they really are.

Finally, some studies have shown that people who use ecstasy are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and having multiple sexual partners. The use of Ecstasy and other club drugs can also lead to unsafe sex, the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy.

Are there long-term consequences to taking ecstasy?

More and more research suggests that ecstasy causes serotonin levels to drop below normal, which impairs the brain's ability to learn, retain information and regulate mood. It appears that ecstasy causes serotonin receptors, which allow the serotonin to fire in the brain, to shrink from overuse. Some evidence shows that restoration of serotonin receptors is possible with continued abstinence from the drug, but that people who have never taken ecstasy have more functioning serotonin receptors than those who have.

Other studies suggest that regular or heavy ecstasy use has long-term negative effects on memory and brain function which go well beyond the last pill taken (and seem to continue to increase in spite of long-term abstinence from the drug). One study found that women are particularly vulnerable to damage to the serotonin system by MDMA.

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How do I recognize a problem with Ecstasy?

Some danger signs are:

  • More frequent use
  • Needing more and more to get the same effect
  • Spending time thinking about using the drug
  • Finding it's hard to be happy without it.
  • Spending more money than you have on it
  • Missing class or failing to finish assignments because of Ecstasy.
  • Making new friends who do it and neglecting old friends who don't

If you find that you can't stop using Ecstasy, then remember, there's help available.

Is ecstasy addictive?

Heavy users whose serotonin system is regularly depleted by the drug rely on greater quantities of the drug to produce smaller and smaller effects. Because the serotonin supply is finite, repeated dosing cannot provide a stronger or lengthened high after all your serotonin has been released. A study of young adult and adolescent ecstasy users found that 43% were dependent, and 34% met the criteria for drug abuse. Almost 60% of users reported both physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Frequently, though, ecstasy users also use other drugs and alcohol and may be addicted to more than one drug simultaneously.

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Is Ecstasy illegal?

Yes, ecstasy is illegal and its possession, use, and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines and disciplinary consequences at Brown. See the Brown University Policy on Drugs on the Student Rights and Responsibilities website.

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them.

Resources at Brown and in Providence

If you or a friend are having trouble with drugs or alcohol, or just have questions, there is help available.

Links you can use

DanceSafe promotes health and safety within the rave and nightclub community. The website has drug information, e-news archives, information on testing kits and features like Your Brain on Ecstasy.

The Good Drugs Guide
This British harm-reduction web site provides extensive information on ecstasy, including the basics, dangers, mixing with other drugs and links.

National Institutes of Health Club Drug Site
Provides trends and statistics, research reports and health information on club drugs.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

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