What is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is most commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly. It is a man-made drug that produces energizing effects similar to the stimulant class amphetamines as well as psychedelic effects, similar to the hallucinogen mescaline (which is similar to those of LSD). MDMA is known as a “club drug” because of its popularity in the nightclub scene, at “raves” (all-night dance parties), and music festivals or concerts.
How is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) 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. MDMA’s effects generally last from 3 to 6 hours.
Researchers and law enforcement have found that much of the Ecstasy sold today contains other harmful and possibly deadly drugs in addition to MDMA. 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.
How does MDMA affect the brain?
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.
- 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 causes a surge of feelings of joy and increased energy
- Norepinephrine—increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people who have problems with their heart and blood circulation
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 negative after-effects. These are caused by the brain no longer having enough serotonin after the surge that was triggered by using MDMA. Days or even weeks after use, people can experience confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and anxiety.
Effects of Long-Term Use
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 the other effects of MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
The changes that take place in the brain with MDMA use affect the user in other ways as well. These include:
- increases in heart rate and blood pressure
- muscle tension
- teeth clenching
- nausea (feeling sick)
- blurred vision
- chills or sweating
- higher body temperature (can lead to serious heart, liver, kidney problems and even death)
- 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.
Can you get addicted to MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
Researchers don’t yet know. What is known is that MDMA targets the same neurotransmitters that are targeted by other addictive drugs. Researchers are still working to understand MDMA’s addictive properties. But, some users experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms after regular (daily or almost daily) use of the drug is reduced or stopped, such as:
- loss of appetite
- trouble concentrating
Can you die from MDMA use?
Yes, you can die from MDMA use. MDMA can cause problems with the body’s ability to control temperature, particularly when it is used in active, hot settings (like dance parties or concerts). On rare occasions, this can lead to a sharp rise in body temperature (known as hyperthermia), which can cause liver, kidney, or heart failure or even death.