Finding an MDMA Rehab Facility for Addiction Treatment

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Is Ecstasy Safe?

Because ecstasy is both inexpensive and widely available, it is a particularly prevalent drug of abuse. Ecstasy has a reputation of being a relatively safe and fun drug, but, in reality, use can result in a number of unpleasant, even dangerous, side effects, including hyperthermia and dehydration.1 In some cases, what is sold as ecstasy is actually a completely different drug, such as bath salts.
man giving ecstasy pills to woman

Ecstasy, a drug that gained popularity in the late 1980s and 1990s, was initially used by adults in nightclubs and raves. The scope of its use broadened to include teenagers; today, ecstasy is commonly abused by young people. A 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated that emergency department visits involving patients under 21 years of age increased by 128%, from nearly 4,500 in 2005 to more than 10,000 in 2011.2

The risks of ecstasy often go underestimated, as it is seen by many as a relatively harmless club drug that makes users feel happy, empathetic, and uninhibited. Some tablets are sold with recognizable logos and have a somewhat nonthreatening, almost candy-like appearance. In fact, in some cases, users hide their ecstasy pills among colorful candies.5

Ecstasy users commonly take several tablets at one time (referred to as “stacking”) or take one shortly after another (“piggy-backing”), increasing the dangers.5

What Is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy has a high potential for addiction and abuse, with no known or accepted medical applications.

Ecstasy refers to 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. First synthesized in the early 20th century by a German pharmaceutical company, MDMA was developed for use as an appetite suppressant.1 Over the past several decades, it has become increasingly abused for its stimulant and hallucinogenic properties.

Ecstasy is an illegal, man-made substance that is classified by the DEA as a Schedule 1 substance, which means it has a high potential for addiction and abuse, with no known or accepted medical applications. Schedule 1 substances also include drugs such as heroin and LSD.1

Ecstasy is known by a number of street names, including:3,5

  • E.
  • Molly.
  • Adam.
  • Beans.
  • Go.
  • Hug.
  • Lover’s speed.
  • X.
  • XTC.

People use ecstasy for many reasons, such as to help them stay awake at raves and parties, to intensify tactile sensations, and to increase feelings of closeness. People often use ecstasy as a way of decreasing sexual inhibitions.

Ecstasy is mainly ingested in pill, tablet, or capsule form, although it sometimes comes in liquid or powder form. Tablets come in a variety of shapes and colors but are usually stamped with logos or cartoon characters.3,5

Short-Term Effects

dancing woman concept of feeling short term effects of ecstasyA 1994 study researched the effects of ecstasy on the brain and body. Researchers Beck and Rosenbaum observed and interviewed 100 ecstasy users to better describe the high that occurred when these people took a standard dose of 100-125mg on an empty stomach. The researchers found that people tended to experience the pleasurable effects of ecstasy after 20-60 minutes; these effects were usually described as an intense euphoric high. But for some, the high wasn’t so pleasurable and was associated with unpleasant outcomes, such as:4

  • Fear.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea.

The high was reported to last around 2-3 hours, after which point a “coming down” period occurred, usually around 3-4 hours after ecstasy was first taken.4

Ecstasy increases production of certain neurotransmitters, known as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The high that people experience after taking ecstasy is largely due to the increased activity of these neurotransmitters:3

  • Serotonin is a chemical instrumental in regulating mood, perception of pain, sleep, sexual urges, and aggression. It also works to increase hormones known as oxytocin and vasopressin linked to feelings of love and arousal. Similarly, boosted serotonin levels from ecstasy use can lift mood and heighten feelings of affection and sexual desire. This can, in turn, reduce inhibitions and increase risky sexual behavior.
  • Dopamine  plays a major role in the feelings of pleasure and reward. The dopamine surges associated with MDMA serve to promote repeat use.
  • Norepinephrine is a chemical that controls heart rate and blood pressure. Ecstasy’s influence on this neurotransmitter system can be particularly dangerous for people who have heart problems or hypertension.

Physical Side Effects

In addition to the euphoric high and increase in pleasurable feelings, ecstasy use may result in a number of detrimental physical and psychological side effects. The negative physical effects of ecstasy use can include:1,6,12

  • Nausea.
  • Clenching of the teeth.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Tremors.
  • Rapid eye movement.
  • Sweating.
  • Chills.
  • Impotence.
  • Inability to regulate body temperature (leading to organ failure).*

*People often use ecstasy in crowded, hot, and overstimulating environments. They may be performing physically taxing and strenuous activities, such as prolonged dancing or jumping. In such cases, people may have a risk of becoming dehydrated or developing hyperthermia (a very high body temperature) that, left untreated, can result in organ damage (e.g., kidney or liver failure) or death.1

Psychological Side Effects

The possible psychological effects of ecstasy can include:4-6

  • Anxiety.
  • Confusion.
  • Paranoia.
  • Depression.
  • Insomnia.
  • Cravings for more ecstasy.

For some people, the negative psychological side effects of ecstasy use may last for weeks after use.4,6

Some studies have shown that people who use ecstasy may be at risk for long-term or permanent cognitive impairment, namely memory damage and problems with learning.5

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Users can develop a pattern of use that becomes problematic enough to interfere in their lives.

There continues to be debate over whether MDMA is addictive; however, it affects a similar set of brain chemicals as other addictive drugs, and there is evidence of animals self-administering ecstasy—the latter a common indicator of a drug’s addictive potential.3,6

Many ecstasy users say they don’t believe it is physically addictive but do believe it is psychologically addictive.4 The hallmark of addiction is the continued use in light of the negative consequences that occur as a result. Certainly, users can develop a pattern of use that becomes problematic enough to interfere in their lives. Signs that a substance use disorder, or addiction, is developing include: 

  • Taking more ecstasy than intended, or taking it more often than intended.
  • Spending a great deal of time in buying or using ecstasy.
  • Suffering serious problems at work or school due to ecstasy use.
  • Ignoring personal obligations in favor of using ecstasy.
  • Taking increasing amounts of ecstasy to overcome tolerance (feeling decreasing effects with the same dose).
  • Failing in attempts to stop using ecstasy.
  • Using ecstasy when doing so can be hazardous, such as when operating machinery or driving.
closeup of man taking ecstasy pill

Ecstasy may also cause withdrawal symptoms when users quit, indicating it can cause physical dependence (a condition in which the body has come to rely on the drug). After ceasing moderate use, people may experience symptoms over the course of the following week. These symptoms could include: 3,6

  • Fatigue.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Depression.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Irritability.
  • Aggression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Loss of interest in sex.
  • Sleep problems. 

Contaminated Ecstasy Is Common

Contaminated MDMA is one of the biggest problems associated with ecstasy use. Laced ecstasy has been found in numerous cases at raves and music festivals, where MDMA use is rampant.7 Ecstasy tablets have often been found to contain other substances, many of which are dangerous or even lethal. They include:1,4, 8

  • Caffeine.
  • PCP.
  • Dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant with dissociative properties at high doses).
  • Synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”).
  • Methamphetamine.
  • Heroin.
  • PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine).

In certain instances, tablets sold as ecstasy do not contain any MDMA at all. One of the key reasons ecstasy use can be so dangerous is the uncertainty as to what someone is ingesting.3

Counterfeit ecstasy is sold as ecstasy but doesn’t contain any ecstasy at all.
Unlike laced ecstasy, counterfeit ecstasy is sold as ecstasy but doesn’t contain any ecstasy at all. Counterfeit ecstasy tablets don’t contain any MDMA but, rather, are solely comprised of substances like PMA.1 The hallucinogenic properties associated with PMA use often take longer to manifest. People may, therefore, consume more of the drug in an attempt to experience certain effects more quickly. This can result in fatal overdose.

Users can never be sure what chemicals they are ingesting when they believe they are consuming ecstasy.

Bath Salts: A Likely Contaminant

The synthetic chemical compound known as bath salts is increasingly found in ecstasy. According to a February 2016 study, 40% of people who consumed MDMA but reported never having used bath salts or other new psychoactive substances were actually found to have bath salts in their system. Frighteningly, most users have no idea that this is actually what they are taking when they purchase ecstasy pills, so they may be unfamiliar with—and unprepared for—the side effects.8

Symptoms associated with bath salts use can include: 9

  • Hypertension.
  • Raised heart rate.
  • Chest pain.
  • Agitation.
  • Intense paranoia.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Delusions.

Ecstasy and Polysubstance Abuse

man on ecstasy with alcohol passed out at barEcstasy use is closely associated with polysubstance abuse (using two or more substances simultaneously). According to one study, ecstasy users were significantly more likely to have used marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, and heroin in the last year.10 

Ecstasy users also commonly use alcohol. When consumed at the same time, ecstasy and alcohol can result in longer-lasting feelings of euphoria. However, ecstasy can diminish the sedation and perceived level of impairment associated with alcohol, which may lead to increased alcohol consumption, thereby increasing the risk of alcohol poisoning or death.11

In addition, people may also combine ecstasy with other substances, such as Viagra—a combination known as “sextasy,” or “trail mix.” This combination may be used in an attempt to overcome the side effect of impotence often associated with ecstasy use.12 This combination can lead to painful and prolonged erections (priapism) and risky sexual behavior (even when there was initially no or little intention to have sex).12 Sexual disinhibition is already a danger for ecstasy users, and this combination heightens that risk, upping the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.  

Other substances commonly combined with ecstasy include club drugs such as ketamine or GHB, and hallucinogens such as LSD, PCP, and mushrooms.

Other substances commonly combined with ecstasy include club drugs such as ketamine or GHB, and hallucinogens such as LSD, PCP, and mushrooms. Popular slang terms can vary based on the combination of drugs used:12

  • Candy flipping”—LSD and ecstasy.
  • “Flower flipping”—mushrooms and ecstasy.
  • “Elephant flipping”—PCP and ecstasy.
  • “Kitty flipping”—ketamine and ecstasy.

Getting Help for Ecstasy Addiction

Getting help for ecstasy addiction is one of the most important steps people can take to regain control of their lives. Some common treatment options for drug addiction include:

  • Detox. This is often the first step in a comprehensive treatment plan. Detox facilitates the clearing of toxic substance(s) from the body and sets the user on a course of recovery. People may elect for medical or social detox settings. Medical detox means that a person receives medical supervision and medication to help him through withdrawal. This may be the best option for someone who is addicted to another substance, such as alcohol, which can cause dangerous and even deadly withdrawal. Social detox relies more on peer and social support to help a person through withdrawal.13
  • Inpatient. This option involves living at the treatment center for the duration of care. Treatment can last anywhere from 30-90 days, or even longer. Some inpatient options, known as therapeutic communities (or TCs), involve stays of 6-12 months. During inpatient treatment, people participate in a wide range of therapies, such as individual and group counseling, 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous, family therapy, and, in some cases, holistic treatments like acupuncture or yoga.
  • Outpatient. People who are unable to commit to a residential stay may opt for outpatient treatment programs. Because they don’t offer 24/7 care and support, outpatient programs will be better options for those who have a supportive network at home and do not require the intensity of care that inpatient options provide. Treatments similar to those offered at inpatient programs, such as counseling and support groups, are used. People can attend outpatient programs as infrequently as once a week, or as frequently as several times per week for several hours per day.
  • 12-step programs. Some people combine 12-step support groups with other forms of treatment, while others rely on these groups as their sole source of recovery. These groups are based on the 12 steps of recovery originally outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Non-12-step groups like SMART Recovery. Options such as SMART Recovery focus on developing self-reliance and self-empowerment and, in contrast with the 12-step model, do not incorporate the concept of a higher power.
  • Individual counseling. Working one-on-one with a substance abuse counselor can help recovering individuals uncover the reason(s) their addiction developed in the first place and provide support and encouragement to help them lead drug-free lives.
  • Group therapy. People often benefit from the camaraderie of others who have been in their shoes. Group therapy offers similar benefits to individual counseling, with the added components of the insight and support of the group.14
  • Dual diagnosis programs. People who struggle with a mental health disorder(s)—such as depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder—in addition to drug or alcohol abuse issues are said to have a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis treatment programs aim to address both conditions, as treating only one could significantly hurt the chances of lasting recovery from either.
  • Aftercare. For most people struggling with addiction, recovery is a lifelong process; recovery doesn’t end with the conclusion of treatment. Aftercare is the term used to refer to the follow-up programs and support a person receives to prevent relapse and help him remain clean and sober indefinitely. Aftercare may consist of a variety of components, such as participating in 12-step groups, engaging in individual counseling, or attending group counseling sessions.

References:

  1. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2003). MDMA (Ecstasy) Fast Facts.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). The DAWN Report: Ecstasy-Related Emergency Department Visits by Young People Increased between 2005 and 2011; Alcohol Involvement Remains a Concern.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2017). MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly).
  4. Levy, K. B., O’Grady, K. E., Wish, E. D., & Arria, A. M. (2005). ). An In-Depth Qualitative Examination of the Ecstasy Experience: Results of a Focus Group with Ecstasy-Using College Students. Substance Use & Misuse, 40(9-10), 1427–1441.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2015). Drugs of Abuse: Ecstasy/MDMA.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly).
  7. Csomor, M., (2013). There’s Something (Potentially Dangerous) about Molly. CNN.
  8. Palamar et al. Detection of “bath salts” and other novel psychoactive substances in hair samples of ecstasy/MDMA/“Molly” users. Drug & Alcohol Dependence , Volume 161 , 200 – 205
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011). “Bath Salts” – Emerging and Dangerous Products.
  10. Wish et. al. (2010). Evidence for Significant Polydrug Use Among Ecstasy-Using College Students, Journal of American College Health, 55(99-104).
  11. Hernández-López, C., Farré, M., Roset, P.N., Menoyo, E., Pizarro, N., Ortuño, J., …, de La Torre, R. (2002). 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) and alcohol interactions in humans: psychomotor performance, subjective effects, and pharmacokinetics. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 300 (1), 236-44.
  12. Center for Substance Abuse Research. Ecstasy/MDMA.
  13. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Types of Treatment Programs.
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