Ecstasy

What Is Ecstasy?

MDMA or ecstasy is a schedule I synthetic, psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. MDMA possesses chemical variations of the stimulant amphetamine or methamphetamine and a hallucinogen, most often mescaline.

MDMA, called "Adam," "ecstasy," or "XTC" on the street, is a synthetic, psychoactive (mind-altering) drug with amphetamine-like and hallucinogenic properties. Its chemical structure is similar to two other synthetic drugs, MDA and methamphetamine, which are known to cause brain damage.

Street Names

XTC, Adam, Clarity, Lover's Speed, Hug, Beans, Love Drug

Statistics and Trends

According to the 2003 Monitoring the Future survey, 4.5% of 12th graders, 3.0% of 10th graders, and 2.1% of 8th graders had used Ecstasy in the past year.

Source: NIDA Infofacts: MDMA (Ecstasy)



How Is Ecstasy Consumed?

Ecstasy is most often available in tablet form and is usually ingested orally. It is also available as a powder and is sometimes snorted and occasionally smoked, but rarely injected. Its effects last approximately four to six hours. Users of the drug say that it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for others, elimination of anxiety, and extreme relaxation. Ecstasy is also said to suppress the need to eat, drink, or sleep, enabling users to endure two- to three-day parties. Consequently, ecstasy use sometimes results in severe dehydration or exhaustion.

Health Hazards

Beliefs about MDMA are reminiscent of the claims made about LSD in the 1950s and 1960s, which proved to be untrue. According to its proponents, MDMA can make people trust each other and can break down barriers between therapists and patients, lovers, and family members.

Many of the risks users face with MDMA use are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine. They are:

Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia - during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA (even psychotic episodes have been reported). Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating. Increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.

Recent research findings also link MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. It is thought that the drug causes damage to the neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons. In monkeys, exposure to MDMA for 4 days caused brain damage that was evident 6 to 7 years later. This study provides further evidence that people who take MDMA may be risking permanent brain damage.

Also, there is evidence that people who develop a rash that looks like acne after using MDMA may be risking severe side effects, including liver damage, if they continue to use the drug.

MDA, the parent drug of MDMA, is an amphetamine-like drug that has also been abused and is similar in chemical structure to MDMA. Research shows that MDA destroys serotonin-producing neurons in the brain, which play a direct role in regulating aggression, mood, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. It is probably this action on the serotonin system that gives MDA its purported properties of height-ened sexual experience, tranquillity, and conviviality.

MDMA also is related in its structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors and can eventually result in a form of paralysis.

Short-term Effects of Ecstasy Abuse

While it is not as addictive as heroin or cocaine, ecstasy can cause other adverse effects including nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increases in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. Ecstasy users also report after-effects of anxiety, paranoia, and depression.

An ecstasy overdose is characterized by high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and, in more severe cases, loss of consciousness, seizures, and a drastic rise in body temperature. ecstasy overdoses can be fatal, as they may result in heart failure or extreme heat stroke.

The effects start after about 20 minutes and can last for hours. There is a 'rush' feeling followed by a feeling of calm and a sense of well being to those around, often with a heightened perception of colour and sound.

Some people actually feel sick and experience a stiffening up of arms, legs and particularly the jaw along with sensations of thirst, sleeplessness, depression and paranoia. It gives a feeling of energy. Some mild hallucinogenic effects can be experienced also.

Extent of Use

MDMA is used most often by young adults and adolescents at clubs, raves (large, all-night dance parties), and rock concerts.

Its abuse is increasingly reported in the 20 metropolitan areas included in the CEWG (Community Epidemiology Work Group).

In Kings County, Washington, a recently completed survey of young men who have sex with men showed that MDMA was among the frequently used drugs (20 percent of the sample).

In Boston, a 1996-97 survey of public schools in Boston found that about 14 percent of male and 7 percent of female 12th graders had used MDMA during their lifetime. Increased use of MDMA among youth was also reported in Seattle.

Information about MDMA from other CEWG areas include the following:

- In Atlanta, MDMA is reported as a popular stimulant.
- In Chicago, it's use is common in the rave and club scenes, especially in the North Side.
- In Miami, large-scale sales of drugs such as MDMA are occurring at raves.
- In New Jersey, it is available across the state, particularly in college towns.

Commonly referred to as Ecstasy or XTC, MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 by a German company possibly to be used as an appetite suppressant. Chemically, it is an analogue of MDA, a drug that was popular in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, MDMA was used to facilitate psychotherapy by a small group of therapists in the United States. Illicit use of the drug did not become popular until the late 1980s and early 1990s. MDMA is frequently used in combination with other drugs. However, it is rarely consumed with alcohol, as alcohol is believed to diminish its effects. It is most often distributed at late-night parties called "raves," nightclubs, and rock concerts. As the rave and club scene expands to metropolitan and suburban areas across the country, MDMA use and distribution are increasing as well.

Source: NIDA Infofacts: MDMA (Ecstasy).

Ecstasy Facts

- Ecstasy's psychological effects can include confusion, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and paranoia during, and sometimes weeks after, taking the drug.

- Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University demonstrated that 4 days of exposure to the drug caused damage that persisted 6 to 7 years later.

- Ecstasy is most commonly used at all night parties called "raves".

- Brain imaging research in humans indicates that MDMA causes injury to the brain, affecting neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons.

- Many of the risks users face with MDMA use are similar to those found with the use of cocaine and amphetamines.

- Psychological difficulties due to ecstasy include confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia - during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA.

- Physical symptoms due to ecstasy include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.

- Ecstasy content varies widely, and it frequently consists of substances entirely different from MDMA, ranging from caffeine to dextromethorphan.

- Emergency room data indicate that MDMA is increasingly used by marijuana users, with reports of MDMA in combination with marijuana increasing from 8 in 1990 to 796 in 1999.

- Ecstasy tablets seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration increased from 13,342 in 1996 to 949,257 in 2000.

* MDMA is on the U.S. Schedule I of controlled substances, and is illegal to manufacture, possess, or sell in the United States.

- Typical doses of ecstasy range from around 80 to 160 milligrams of MDMA when taken orally.

- When ecstasy is taken by mouth, the effects manifest about 30-45 minutes later.

- MDMA was first synthesized and patented in 1914 by the German drug company called Merck.

- Memory tests of people who have taken Ecstasy as compared to non-drug users have shown that the Ecstasy users had lower scores.

Where Does Ecstasy Come From?

Clandestine laboratories operating throughout Western Europe, primarily the Netherlands and Belgium, manufacture significant quantities of the drug in tablet, capsule, or powder form. Although the vast majority of MDMA consumed domestically is produced in Europe, a limited number of MDMA labs operate in the United States. In addition, in recent years, Israeli organized crime syndicates, some composed of Russian exiles associated with Russian organized crime syndicates, have forged relationships with Western European traffickers and gained control over a significant share of the European market. The Israeli syndicates are currently the primary source to U.S. distribution groups.

Overseas MDMA trafficking organizations smuggle the drug in shipments of 10,000 or more tablets via express mail services, couriers aboard commercial airline flights, or, more recently, through air freight shipments from several major European cities to cities in the United States. The drug is sold in bulk quantity at the mid-wholesale level in the United States for approximately eight dollars per dosage unit. The retail price of MDMA sold in clubs in the United States remains steady at twenty to thirty dollars per dosage unit. MDMA traffickers consistently use brand names and logos as marketing tools and to distinguish their product from that of competitors. The logos are produced to coincide with holidays or special events. Among the more popular logos are butterflies, lightning bolts, and four-leaf clovers.