MDMA — commonly known as Ecstasy, Molly or X — has remained popular among young people and in party culture for decades. Mistakenly viewed as a safe drug that produces euphoric feelings of connection and love, MDMA can be extremely dangerous and may result in adverse health effects, overdose and death.
Ecstasy, Molly, X and Beans are the names given to pills, capsules and powders containing MDMA. MDMA is the active substance in ecstasy that causes people to experience euphoria and pleasure. It is both a hallucinogen and a stimulant, causing effects that are consistent with both types of substances. MDMA use is characterized by time and sensory distortion, high levels of perceived connection and openness among users.
58 Percent of ecstasy pills contain less than 25 percent MDMA
Ecstasy and Molly generally come in pill form or in a crystalized powder. Drug dealers may cut Ecstasy with multiple other substances to maximize profits, making it impossible for users to know exactly what they are taking.
In 2014, more than 600,000 people 12 or older reported using Ecstasy in the last month, according to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
MDMA is particularly popular among youth and young adults. Young people frequently abuse the drug at electronic dance music (EDM) festivals, dance clubs and concerts. Many individuals who use MDMA perceive the substance as safe — a misconception that can have devastating consequences.
Using Ecstasy can create health situations that are highly dangerous for users, including hyperthermia, heart failure, hypertension or heart failure.
For those struggling with MDMA use, treatment is available. Trained health care professionals can help people overcome MDMA dependence while treating the psychological cause of their substance use disorder.
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MDMA is the principle ingredient in Ecstasy, which produces euphoric effects. Ecstasy is an older term that was originally coined for the drug in the late-1970s and early-1980s. Molly is a more current term that typically refers to pure MDMA in powdered form, though most Molly pills or capsules do not contain pure MDMA.
Research cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that Ecstasy tablets often contain multiple substances in addition to MDMA. Some of these substances included methamphetamine, caffeine, dextromethorphan and cocaine.
Users typically take one to two tablets with 60 to 120 milligrams of MDMA and may take more as the effects of the substance wear off. Ecstasy is rarely used alone. Most individuals combine it with alcohol, marijuana or other substances.
Ecstasy is not as widely used as marijuana or alcohol, but it is still a significant threat to health, especially among youth. SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 39,000 people between 12 and 17 years old were current MDMA users in 2014. In 2015, 5 percent of 12th-graders reported using MDMA or Molly within the past year, according to a survey by researchers at the University of Michigan.
123% More ecstasy-related emergency room visits from 2005 to 2009.
MDMA is popular among young adults as well. According to results from the SAMHSA survey, 270,000 people aged 18 to 25 (0.8 percent) were current Ecstasy users in 2014. Among individuals 26 or older, 300,000 (0.1 percent) were current Ecstasy users in 2014.
MDMA is likely more prevalent in electronic dance music culture than anywhere else. The EDM industry has exploded in the past decade, valued at about $7.1 billion in 2016. Music festivals generate more than $1 billion in the industry each year.
EDM events and other music festivals are hotbeds for MDMA use, which has been linked to festival-related deaths. People at EDM festivals often require medical attention for overdose, drug-induced dehydration, heat stroke and seizures stemming from Molly abuse. MDMA-related deaths are not uncommon.
In 2013, two people died at the Electric Zoo festival in New York from fatal doses of Molly, causing event organizers to cancel the third day of the event. In 2014, a man died of an Ecstasy overdose at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. In 2016, two women died at Tampa’s Sunset Music Festival from MDMA overdoses.
EDM festivals are characterized by high energy and dancing, often taking place in the peak of summer. This compounds the risks of heat stroke, seizure and dehydration from Ecstasy use.
MDMA affects the brain by acting on neurotransmitters — chemical messengers that enable nerve cells in the brain to communicate — which produces feelings of euphoria, mental stimulation, emotional connectedness, empathy and a general sense of well-being. MDMA use is also characterized by enhanced sensory perception, increased energy and distortion of time. These desired effects last about three to six hours. The side effects can last much longer.
Hours after taking Ecstasy, users experience a significant reduction in mental capabilities. MDMA affects the brain’s ability to process memory and information, which can last up to a week after use, sometimes longer.
Users may experience a number of negative side effects when using MDMA, including:
Additionally, abusing Molly or Ecstasy may bring about adverse health effects such as:
Increased heart rate, blood pressure and stress to the heart wall are common side effects of MDMA. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, multiple studies show that long-term heavy MDMA use is associated with cognitive deficits.
Overdose is also a possibility, and it can be fatal. MDMA overdose symptoms include:
Ecstasy use can cause a significant increase in body temperature, known as hyperthermia, which can be incredibly dangerous.
Hyperthermia requires an immediate medical response as it can quickly lead to muscle breakdown and kidney failure. Hyperthermia also puts individuals at higher risk of dehydration, hypertension and heart failure.
MDMA is sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault, making it a date rape drug. The substance can be slipped into an unsuspecting person’s drink easily without detection. Once drugged, individuals lose sexual inhibitions as well as their ability to give reasoned consent, greatly increasing their risk of sexual assault.
MDMA affects the same reward pathway in the brain as other addictive substances. While physical dependence liability for Ecstasy is lower than for substances such as cocaine, addiction is still possible. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, experiments have shown that animals will self-administer MDMA, a behavior usually associated with abusive drugs.
43 Percent of young ecstasy users are dependent.
Additionally, some Ecstasy users report continued abuse of the drug despite physical or psychological harm. Heavy users experience symptoms — such as withdrawal, fatigue, loss of appetite, depression and concentration issues — that are common among people with substance use disorders. MDMA is also frequently used in combination with other substances, and repeated use can contribute to a larger substance use disorder.
Rehab treatment facilities with trained health care providers can help individuals with an addiction to MDMA recover from the disease. Rehab facilities use evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to teach clients to live without Ecstasy and begin a life in recovery.