Addiction Facts – Ecstasy
MDMA, or ecstasy as it is know on the street, is a psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Ecstasy possesses chemical variations of the stimulant amphetamine or methamphetamine and a hallucinogen, most often mescaline.
Ecstasy is a white, crystalline powder in its pure form and is usually seen in capsule form, in pressed pills, or as loose powder. MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 by a German company to be used as an appetite suppressant. Chemically, it is an analogue of MDA, a drug that was popular in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, MDMA was used to facilitate psychotherapy by a small group of therapists in the United States. Illicit use of the drug did not become popular until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (formerly Health Canada) reports that drug samples submitted as Ecstasy show that between 2001 and 2003 Ecstasy samples were purer and contained mostly MDMA. Between 2003 and early 2005, analyses of Ecstasy samples revealed a mixture of multiple substances, including MDA, methamphetamine, ketamine, caffeine, pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. In 2006, analyses showed that cocktail mixtures are still present, although an increasing amount of methamphetamine, sometimes only methamphetamine, has been found in tablets held out as Ecstasy.
Ecstasy is frequently used in combination with other drugs. Ecstasy is rarely consumed with alcohol, as alcohol is believed to diminish its effects. It is most often distributed at late-night parties called “raves”, nightclubs, and rock concerts. As the rave and club scene expands to metropolitan and suburban areas across the country, ecstasy use and distribution are increasing as well.
The pills or capsules are expensive, commonly $15 to $25 a hit in many areas and $35 to $45 in some more remote areas. When the supply is low, suspects may mix meth with LSD or ketamine or the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) even GHB powder (anything that gives the hallucinogenic aspect) and represent it to be MDMA. Or, it may be mostly bunk (filler) or dangerous random chemicals or just caffeine and/or ephedrine mixtures (which would actually qualify as “herbal ecstasy” which is also sold at the raves as an extension of or addition to the MDMA).
The continuing rise in domestic Ecstasy production has given Canada an increased role as a source country in both the domestic and international markets. The saturation of the Canadian illicit market coupled with the expansion of organized crime’s role in the synthetic drug trade worldwide, has made Canada an important source for illicit synthetic drugs. This was confirmed in 2005 by escalated cross-border MDMA trafficking from Canada to the United States and overseas smuggling of MDMA and methamphetamine, particularly to Japan and Australia.
Ecstasy is produced in clandestine laboratories in mass quantities for domestic and international markets. Ecstasy traffickers consistently use brand names and logos as marketing tools to distinguish their product from that of competitors. The logos are produced to coincide with holidays or special events. Among the more popular logos are butterflies, lightning bolts, and four-leaf clovers.
Ecstasy is most often available in tablet form and is usually ingested orally. It is also available as a powder and is sometimes snorted or smoked, but rarely injected. Its effects last approximately four to six hours. Users of the drug say that it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for others, elimination of anxiety, and extreme relaxation. Ecstasy is also said to suppress the need to eat, drink, or sleep, enabling users to endure two- to three-day parties. Consequently, ecstasy use sometimes results in severe dehydration or exhaustion.
The effects start after about 20 minutes and can last for hours. There is a ‘rush’ feeling followed by calm and a sense of well being, often with a heightened perception of color and sound. Some people feel sick and experience a stiffening up of arms, legs and particularly the jaw along with sensations of thirst, sleeplessness, depression and paranoia. Ecstasy also gives a feeling of energy and can produce some mild hallucinogenic effects.
Ecstasy users often seek to increase their high by combining their pill with a dose of marijuana, LSD, ketamine, GHB, amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin. This experimentation can lead to addiction.
While it is not as addictive as heroin or cocaine, ecstasy can cause short-term adverse effects such as nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increases in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision.
Ecstasy users also report after-effects of anxiety, paranoia, and depression. An ecstasy overdose is characterized by high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and in more severe cases, loss of consciousness, seizures, and a drastic rise in body temperature. Ecstasy overdoses can be fatal, as they may result in heart failure or extreme heat stroke.
Many problems users encounter with Ecstasy are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine. They include increases in heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, chills, sweating, and such psychological problems as confusion, depression, sleep problems, craving, severe anxiety, paranoia, and psychotic episodes.
Ecstasy’s chemical cousin, MDA, destroys cells that produce serotonin in the brain. These cells play a direct roll in regulating aggression, mood, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. Methamphetamine, also similar to Ecstasy, damages brain cells that produce dopamine. Scientists have now shown that ecstasy not only makes the brain’s nerve branches and endings degenerate, but also makes them “re-grow abnormally – failing to reconnect with some brain areas and connecting elsewhere with the wrong areas. These reconnections may be permanent, resulting in cognitive impairments, changes in emotion, learning, memory, or hormone-like chemical abnormalities.
The designer drug “Ecstasy,” or MDMA, causes long-lasting damage to brain areas that are critical for thought and memory, according to new research. Additional research now suggests that MDMA use may lead to impairments in other cognitive functions besides memory, such as the ability to reason verbally or sustain attention. Animal studies, which first documented the neurotoxic effects of the drug, suggest that the loss of serotonin neurons in humans may last for many years and possibly be permanent.
The signs of ecstasy addiction may be hard to spot unless you observe the individual while they are on the drugs. While ecstasy is considered not as addictive as heroin or cocaine, it can cause other adverse effects including nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increases in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision.
Ecstasy users also report after-effects of anxiety, paranoia, and depression. Ecstasy comes in all shapes and colors. Ecstasy is also known as XTC, X, Versace, the hug drug, the love pill, and numerous other names reflecting the various imprints on the pills.
When an individual takes ecstasy the signs of use typically take anywhere from a half hour to an hour and can last for several hours on end. Often there is a ‘rush’ feeling followed by a feeling of calm and a sense of well being to those around, often with a heightened perception of color and sound. Some people actually feel sick and experience stiffening of arms, legs and particularly the jaw along with sensations of thirst, depression and paranoia Ecstasy often gives a feeling of energy and has some mild hallucinogenic effects as well. Sleeplessness is another sign of ecstasy addiction.
Signs of ecstasy addiction and common paraphernalia associated with ecstasy use include:
In addition to its seemingly positive effects, ecstasy’s psychological effects can include: confusion, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and paranoia during use and in the weeks after taking the drug. Physical effects can include muscle tension, involuntary teeth-clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Increases in heart rate and blood pressure are a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.
Ecstasy-related fatalities at raves have been reported. The stimulant effects of the drug, which enables the user to dance for extended periods, combined with the hot, crowded conditions can lead to dehydration, hyperthermia, and heart or kidney failure.
An ecstasy overdose happens when you consume more Ecstasy than your body can safely handle. Ecstasy users are constantly flirting with drug overdose, and the difference between the high they’re seeking and serious injury or death is often quite small.
Signs of an overdose include high blood pressure, faintness, muscle cramping, panic attacks, loss of consciousness, seizures, hyperthermia, muscle breakdown, stroke. kidney and cardiovascular system failure, permanent damage to sections of brain critical to thought and memory, and death.
Withdrawal is typically accompanied by a variety of symptoms including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, sleeplessness and paranoid delusions.