MDMA is a drug that is also known as, 'Molly,' and popularly as, 'ecstasy.' The drug is a synthetic and psychoactive one that has similarities to both the stimulant, 'amphetamine,' and the hallucinogen, 'mescaline.' MDMA produces feelings of euphoria, increased energy, empathy and emotional warmth towards others as well as distortions in sensory and time perception. The drug was initially popular among white adolescents and young adults in nightclubs or raves. The drug now affects a broader range of users and ethnicities.
MDMA is taken orally, often times as a tablet or capsule. The term, 'Molly,' which is slang for, 'molecular,' refers to the pure and crystalline powder form of the drug, usually sold in capsules. The effects of MDMA last around 3-6 hours, although it is not uncommon for users to take a second dose of the drug as the effects of their first dose start to wear off. It is commonly taken in combination with other drugs. Some urban gay and bisexual men; for example, report using MDMA as a part of a multiple-drug experience which includes:
MDMA acts by increasing the activity of 3 neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. The emotional and pro-social effects of MDMA are likely caused either directly or indirectly by the release of large amounts of serotonin, which influences a person's mood as well as other functions such as sleep and appetite. Serotonin also triggers the release of the hormones, 'oxytocin,' and, 'vasopressin,' which play important roles in trust, love, sexual arousal and additional social experiences. The drug produces characteristic feelings of empathy and emotional closeness. Studies in both rats and people have shown that MDMA raises the levels of these hormones.
The surge of serotonin caused by taking MDMA depletes a person's brain of this important chemical and causes negative after-effects such as:
These effects can happen soon after a person has taken the drug, or during the days or even weeks afterwards. Some heavy MDMA users experience long-lasting depression, confusion, sleep abnormalities and issues with attention and memory, although it is possible some of these effects may be due to the use of other drugs in combination with MDMA, particularly marijuana.
Research to date on the addictive properties of MDMA have presented varying results, yet what is known is that some people report symptoms of dependence – to include continued use of the drug despite awareness of physical or psychological harm, tolerance and withdrawal effects.
Neurotransmitter systems targeted by MDMA are the same ones as those targeted by other types of addictive drugs. Experiments have shown that animals will self-administer MDMA, an important indicator of a drug's abuse potential, although the degree of self-administration is less than some abused drugs such as cocaine.
MDMA can have several of the same physical effects as other stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine. The effects can include increased heart rate and blood pressure which are especially risky for people who experience heart disease or circulatory issues. MDMA users can experience other symptoms such as:
Taken in high dosages, MDMA can interfere with a person's body's ability to regulate temperature. On rare and unpredictable occasions, the symptom may lead to a sharp increase in a person's body temperature which can result in kidney, liver or cardiovascular system failure – or even death. MDMA can interfere with its own metabolism, causing potentially harmful levels to build up in a person's body if it is taken repeatedly within short periods of time.
Adding to the risks is the fact that MDMA tablets and even capsules of supposedly pure MDMA sometimes actually contain other drugs instead of, or in addition to MDMA. Additional drugs found in MDMA may include dextromethorphan, ephedrine, caffeine, ketamine, methamphetamines, cocaine or even synthetic, 'cathinones,' also known as, 'bath salts.' These substances are harmful by themselves and may be especially dangerous mixed with MDMA. Users who intentionally or unknowingly combine such a mixture with additional drugs such as alcohol or marijuana might be placing themselves at even greater risk for negative health effects. Along with the effects mentioned, the closeness-promoting effects of MDMA and its use in sexually charged contexts may encourage unsafe sex, something that is a risk factor for contracting and spreading hepatitis and HIV.
MDMA was first used in the 1970's as an aid in psychotherapy, not as a recreational drug, although without the support of clinical trial research or FDA approval.
In the year 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration labeled MDMA as a Schedule 1 substance. What this means is that MDMA is a drug with high potential for abuse and a lack of medicinal use.
Some researchers remain interested in MDMA's potential therapeutic value if it is administered under carefully monitored conditions. MDMA is currently in clinical trials as a potential pharmacotherapy aid to treat people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as anxiety in people with terminal cancer.