DRUGS: WHAT YOU
NEED TO KNOW Booklet
Signs and Symptoms of MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy) Addiction
The drug ecstasy is described in many terms: hallucinogen, club drug, synthetic drug, stimulant and empathogen. Looking at how ecstasy, also called MDMA or molly, can be all these things at once provides insight into its effects.
Hallucinogen: Ecstasy causes distorted sensory and time perception, as do hallucinogens.
Club drug: This drug is popular with those who go to nightclubs, music festivals, dance clubs or raves.
Synthetic drug: Ecstasy is a synthetic drug produced in labs both in Canada and Europe with small quantities being manufactured in the U.S.1
Stimulant: The full name of ecstasy is ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine; the last part of this name reveals the drug’s relation to amphetamines which are strong stimulants.
Empathogen: An empathogen is a drug that produces artificial feelings of empathy and closeness with others. Ecstasy is also addictive.
Physical Signs of Ecstasy Addiction
After a person takes ecstasy, their body becomes highly stimulated. They feel wide awake and energetic, which enables them to dance throughout the night. If they don’t take time to cool off and drink cold water, they can become dangerously overheated.
In fact, some nightclubs offer patrons cooling rooms where they can relax, cool off and get access to cold drinks. At a hot, outdoor event where a person dancing to the music can become dehydrated, ecstasy use can become quite dangerous.
An ecstasy user may also experience these symptoms:
- Cramped or tight muscles, especially in the jaw
- Muscle stiffness
- Blurred vision
- High blood pressure
- Restless legs
- Hot flashes
Behavioral and Mental Signs of Ecstasy Addiction
Ecstasy has dramatic effects on a person’s behavior and emotions. Because of its effects on the chemicals in the brain, the user receives a rush of artificial emotions:
- Emotional closeness
- Sensory pleasure
These reactions and the overtly sexual nature of dancing in nightclubs and raves can easily lead to unsafe sexual encounters that were not intended before the drug was consumed.
Not all mental reactions are pleasant. The user may also suffer from paranoia, panic attacks, and disorganized thoughts.
The Long-Term Emotional and Mental Damage of Ecstasy Addiction
MDMA has such a profound effect on the user’s brain that when the drug wears off, life can be unpleasant. One study comparing the after-party moods of ecstasy users with those who did not take the drug found that ecstasy users felt significantly more depressed, unsociable, disagreeable, and bad-tempered than those who didn’t take the drug.2
When they were given tests of recall, they scored more poorly than those who didn’t take MDMA, with those who took MDMA regularly scoring the worst.
There’s actually a slang term for this unpleasant comedown: Suicide Tuesday.3 A person’s mood a few days after the drug wears off can be so uncomfortable that they may feel compelled to take more of the drug or even consider suicide.
In addition to memory problems, those who took this drug regularly also suffered greater cognitive deficits, psychiatric disorders and reduced sexual interest.4 These problems often persisted long after ecstasy use ceased.
Another study conducted nationally found that in addition to damaging physical effects, once ecstasy wore off, it was common to suffer reduced motivation and depression.3
The Long-Term Physical Damage of Ecstasy Addiction
Of course, the most horrific effect of ecstasy addiction is death. Death can occur from the overheating effect of the drug combined with hours of dancing, sometimes in hot environments. Kidney failure and swelling of the brain can lead to the individual’s death.
Suicide is also a possibility for a person addicted to ecstasy. The term Suicide Tuesday mentioned above has a basis in the damage caused to the individual’s neurotransmitter balance in the brain.3 Initially, there is a flood of serotonin—the neurotransmitter associated with mood and learning—produced when the drug’s effects kick in. When the drug is used repeatedly, it can produce nerve damage that reduces the user’s ability to produce more serotonin.
This damage can result in fatigue, depression, impulsivity and aggression. It is possible that this effect is the reason that adolescents who have ever taken ecstasy attempt suicide twice as often as those who have only consumed other illicit drugs than ecstasy.3 Compared to youth who had never taken illicit drugs, ecstasy users had nine times the rate of past-year suicide attempts.
Some of these neurotransmitter changes may not be reversible when drug use stops, making it even more important to avoid this drug.
Further physical harm done by ecstasy addiction includes:
- Sleep disturbances
- Lack of appetite
- Heart disease
- Heart arrhythmia
The repercussions of overdosing on ecstasy can be fatal. As a stimulant, it speeds up the heart and causes the body to heat up. In some cases, the overheating can become a runaway train, resulting in an extremely high fever and organ breakdown.
There is a second, odd way that ecstasy can cause death. Many drug users know that it’s important to stay hydrated and cool after taking ecstasy. But they may drink excessive amounts of water, which completely throws off the body’s electrolyte balances. While rare, this imbalance can also cause death.
Withdrawal from Ecstasy
Ecstasy does not have the pronounced physical withdrawal effects of some other drugs, but a person coming off this drug is likely to suffer cognitive losses, difficulty concentrating, tiredness, loss of appetite, and depression. However, because of the changes this drug makes in the person’s brain, it could be a long time before this individual in recovery gets back to their own normal feelings in life.
Recovering from Ecstasy Addiction
Unfortunately, ecstasy has a reputation as a “safe” drug. It is readily apparent that it is not safe at all. Anyone using this drug should be encouraged to recover their sobriety. While across America, only about one percent of the population uses this drug, among certain groups, it has heavy and frequent use.5 This group would include young adults aged 18 to 25, particularly those who enjoy clubbing or going to music festivals. Among this group, there is a much higher rate of use.
Family and friends should be prepared to support this person as they struggle through the lasting changes to their cognitive ability and emotional responses to life. There is hope of recovery when a good long-term rehab can be found to guide the individual back to a rewarding life.
DEA, “Ecstasy/MDMA.” Drug Enforcement Administration, 2020. DEA.gov fact sheet ↩︎
NIH. “Ecstasy (MDMA) effects upon mood and cognition.” National Institutes of Health, 1998. NIH.gov article ↩︎
NIH. “Ecstasy Use and Suicidal Behavior Among Adolescents.” National Institutes of Health, 2011. NIH article ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎
NIH. “Recreational Ecstasy/MDMA, the serotonin syndrome, and serotonergic neurotoxicity.” National Institutes of Health, 2002. NIH article ↩︎
SAMHSA. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health, 2021. SAMHSA.gov ↩︎