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MDMA is an acronym for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in the illegal club drug universally known as ecstasy and more recently referred to as “molly.”

MDMA alters the activity of chemical messengers in the brain. Both a stimulant and psychedelic drug, it causes a high level of energy and heightened tactile experiences as well as a distorted perception of time. Animal research concerning MDMA shows that high doses of this drug is toxic to nerve cells containing serotonin and can cause long-term damage.

Adulterants Typically Found in Ecstasy

In addition to MDMA, researchers have found that the majority of ecstasy tablets on the street contain other harmful and/or addictive substances, including cocaine, methamphetamine, caffeine, ephedrine, and the cough medicine dextromethorphan. These combinations can be very dangerous.

Effects of Ecstasy

Ecstasy is most commonly associated with adolescents and young adults who use the drug to enhance the club scene experience. The effects of taking ecstasy include warm emotional feelings, euphoria, a high level of energy, and increased enjoyment of tactile and sensory experiences.

Some of the immediate dangers of using ecstasy include hyperthermia, or a dramatic increase in body temperature, dehydration, high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney failure, and an irregular heartbeat. Undesirable effects that often accompany an ecstasy high include nausea, chills, sweating, the involuntary clenching of the jaw and grinding of the teeth, muscle cramps, and blurred vision. Additionally, many users engage in risky sexual behaviors that increase the risk of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Negative side effects of just one dose of ecstasy can last for a week or more after taking the drug and include:

  • Anxiety, restlessness, and irritability.
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive behaviors.
  • Sleep and appetite disturbances.
  • Unquenchable thirst.
  • Reduced cognitive abilities.

Long-term effects of abusing ecstasy include:

  • Chronic confusion.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Memory impairment and problems with processing information.
  • Decreased motor and general cognitive function.
  • Emotional instability.

Ecstasy in Combination with Other Drugs

Many who abuse ecstasy take it with other drugs, including Adderall, cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. Ecstasy can effectively block the effects of alcohol, and alcohol can temper the effects of ecstasy, increasing the risk of overdose of either or both of these drugs. Adderall and cocaine increase the risk of negative effects of ecstasy relating to heart and lung function.

Ecstasy Overdose 

Overdose of ecstasy is a serious concern because many users take more than one dose or take additional doses once the effects of the initial dose begin to wear off after three to six hours. An ecstasy overdose can be fatal. Signs and symptoms of an ecstasy overdose include:

  • Panic attacks.
  • Feelings of faintness.
  • A marked increase of blood pressure.
  • Seizures.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Death.

Ecstasy Abuse Treatment

While there is little research surrounding physical dependence on ecstasy, developing a physical dependence is possible. Getting help for severe abuse of ecstasy is essential for preventing addiction and other negative health effects. Treatment for ecstasy abuse or addiction can take place in a residential treatment facility or through an outpatient treatment program.

There are no medications available to treat a dependence on ecstasy, but addiction and abuse can be effectively treated through various therapies, including group counseling and family therapy. Individual cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is considered the most effective treatment for ecstasy addiction and abuse. CBT helps patients learn to identify and evaluate self-destructive patterns of thought and behavior and to replace them with ways of thinking and behaving that are healthy. Patients develop a toolbox of skills, strategies, and techniques for coping with stress, managing cravings for the drug, and avoiding triggers.

An individualized aftercare program is set in place after treatment is successfully completed to help patients maintain sobriety and promotes long-term abstinence from using the drug.