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How Addictive Is Ecstasy Really? (What the Science Shows)

While ecstasy doesn’t cause severe physical dependency as opioids do, it can result in addiction. Ecstasy use can trigger psychological dependence and compulsive behaviors related to its use.

Ecstasy Use

When people decide to try something new at a party, such as ecstasy, they may underestimate its effects. After all, ecstasy is well-known in popular culture.

It goes by various nicknames, such as E, XTC, Molly, or love drug. How could something that sounds so mild be that bad

MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), better known as ecstasy, is a drug that does not occur in nature. It can only be manufactured and purchased unlawfully. 

The most popular way to consume ecstasy is to swallow a tablet or pill. It takes about an hour for ecstasy to start affecting a user, and total effects could last between three and six hours.

Ecstasy has such a powerful effect on the brain that its impact could linger for at least a week after ingestion.

The Government of Canada says its powerful effects could include hallucinations, and it can affect the body similarly to methamphetamine substances. 

People who take ecstasy normally experience the following:

  • Increased energy
  • Euphoria, or a feeling of extreme well-being
  • A sense of friendliness and increased desire to be social

This sounds great on paper, but if ecstasy is taken routinely, people can become tolerant to or dependent on the drug.

Potential for Tolerance and Dependence

Tolerance causes a person to seek out higher doses of a drug, so it can continue being effective. Essentially, the same dosage doesn’t produce the same results any longer.

Dependence means the body gets used to the presence of a drug to perform certain functions. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that some people report addiction to ecstasy.

Dangers of Buying Synthetic Drugs

Ecstasy is unregulated and sold in tablets of various strengths. It may contain other ingredients that could increase the odds of becoming addicted or cause health complications.

Components that have been found in ecstasy tablets are:

  • Cocaine
  • LSD
  • PCP
  • Caffeine
  • Ephedrine
  • Methamphetamine

Most users do not test their supply of MDMA for purity. 

Ecstasy influences the part of the brain that deals with controlling impulses. Since impulse control and judgment may be affected, it can make it easier for a person to become dependent on the drug.

Psychological Dependency

A 2013 case study from Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation mentions that many ecstasy users still believe the drug cannot cause dependence or misuse. In reality, ecstasy has the potential to form both physical and psychological dependency. 

Its psychological effects occur because of the way it affects the brain. Ecstasy causes the brain to release a large number of neurotransmitters that affect a person’s sense of well-being and pleasure.

After its euphoric impacts lessen, people who use ecstasy may feel differently because the chemical balance in their brains is now different. 

When someone uses MDMA, it causes changes in serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in certain ways.

  • Serotonin: This neurotransmitter is involved in regulating pain, appetite, mood, and emotional stability. It also plays a part in healthy sleep cycles.
  • Norepinephrine: This chemical messenger is involved in balancing anxiety, mood, energy, concentration, and even sleep. Norepinephrine is a critical part of a person’s “fight-or-flight” response to possible threats.
  • Dopamine: This chemical messenger is important in concentration, mood, and regulation of the central nervous system (CNS). 

Scientists currently believe the feelings of euphoria caused by ecstasy could stem from the high levels of serotonin released in the brain when under its influence. Ecstasy also has a well-documented comedown or crash. 

Ecstasy crashes are known to cause depression, and this could be because the drug causes serotonin imbalances. A rush of serotonin is released to make a person feel happier. The brain needs to rest after churning out this much serotonin, causing users to feel depressed or down after ecstasy’s effects are over.

The journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation says that ecstasy causes symptoms of withdrawal and may cause a person to seek it compulsively. These are hallmarks of addiction.

The drug also has additional physical consequences.

Physical Dependency on MDMA

Along with its consequences on the brain, ecstasy affects the body.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse mentions that a person can feel the impact of ecstasy for up to a full week after using it. Part of this may be that users tend to take a second dose of MDMA a few hours after taking their first tablet.

The following are some of the physical consequences someone can expect:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Aggression 
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Memory issues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Less interest in sex

Ecstasy has an effect on a person’s temperature and makes it easier to suffer heatstroke. Increased temperature is dangerous for the kidneys and liver, according to the Government of Canada. The fact that ecstasy is often used in crowded dance clubs and raves compounds this issue.

Physical dependence on MDMA is rare in comparison to its psychological consequences. Ecstasy users should be aware that it can produce feelings of withdrawal, however.

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Cravings for the drug

Who Uses Ecstasy?

In 2014, NIDA conducted the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found a few patterns regarding ecstasy use and abuse.

  • About 17 million Americans who were 12 or older reported using ecstasy at least once in their lives.
  • About 660,000 people reported using ecstasy in the month before the survey was conducted.

A 2016 study on teens found that its use was declining because ecstasy was harder to buy. 

A 2014 study published in Substance Use and Misuse looked at statistics for high school students at that time and found the following:

  • Women and teenagers who have religious beliefs are less likely to use ecstasy.
  • Black, Latino/Hispanic teens, and teens who live with both parents are less likely to try the drug.
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances increased the risk of using ecstasy.
  • Teens with jobs where they made at least $50 per week or who had an allowance of at least $10 per week were more likely to try ecstasy.

The study also found that MDMA is not as popular as it was in the 2000s. NIDA lists alcohol and marijuana as the most popular drugs overall, and ecstasy use rates are far lower than rates for these substances.

Scientific research shows that ecstasy dependence is not as extreme as dependence on other drugs, but it is still possible to experience it and become addicted.

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

As stated by NIDA, regular users of ecstasy report symptoms common to addiction. These include:

  • Using ecstasy even if it has a negative impact on personal, academic, or work obligations
  • Not being able to quit using ecstasy even though they really want to
  • Experiencing tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal
  • Continuously craving the drug

Sources

(September 2017) Is MDMA Addictive. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse/mdma-addictive

(September 2014) Does MDMA Have Psychotherapeutic Potential? Psychology Today. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ending-addiction-good/201409/does-mdma-have-psychotherapeutic-potential

(June 2018) MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasymolly

(November 2018) Ecstasy. Government of Canada. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/controlled-illegal-drugs/ecstasy.html

(September 2017) MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse: What are MDMA’s effects on the brain? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse/what-are-mdmas-effects-on-brain

(November 2018) The Effects of Ecstasy or MDMA on the Brain. Verywell Mind. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-does-mdma-do-to-the-brain-63096

(November 2013) 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): current perspectives. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931692/

(September 2017) MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse: What is the scope of MDMA use in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse/what-is-the-scope-of-mdma-use-in-the-united-states

(November 2014) An Examination of Sociodemographic Correlates of Ecstasy Use Among High School Seniors in the United States. Substance Use and Misuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064947/

(July 2018) Media Guide: Most Commonly Used Addictive Drug. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/most-commonly-used-addictive-drugs

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