What is MDMA?
MDMA is short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is most commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly. It is a laboratory-made drug that produces a “high” similar to the stimulants called amphetamines which help with conditions such as ADHD, narcolepsy, and depression. In addition to making a person more alert, MDMA also produces psychedelic effects and hallucinogens similar to LSD. MDMA first became popular in the nightclub scene, at raves or dance parties, and music festivals and concerts. However, MDMA is now more popular among everyday users, and its effects generally last 3 to 6 hours.
MDMA is a Schedule 1 substance, which means that the U.S. Government has determined that has no medical benefit and a high potential for misuse.
Most people who use MDMA take it in a pill, tablet, or capsule. The piss can be different colors and sometimes have cartoon-like imagines on them. Some people take more than one pill at a time, this is called “bumping.” The popular term “Molly” refers to the pure crystalline powder form of MDMA, which is usually sold and taken as a capsule. However, most Molly that has been seized and tested by the police show that it is not pure, but rather mixed with other chemicals and ingredients.
The Brain and Body
MDMA and the Teenage Brain
Once an MDMA pill or capsule is swallowed, it takes about 15 minutes for the drug to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. MDMA increases the activity of three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are important to proper brain function.
- Serotonin. Plays a role in controlling a person’s mood such as aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and feelings of pain. The extra serotonin that is released by MDMA likely causes mood-lifting effects in users. People who use MDMA might feel very alert, or hyper, at first. Serotonin also triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which play a role in feelings of love, sexual arousal, and trust. This may be why MDMA users report feeling a heightened sense of emotional closeness to other people.
- Dopamine. It helps control movement, motivation, emotions, and sensations like pleasure. The extra dopamine is linked to continued cravings for more MDMA. This is also the neurotransmitter that is targeted in other drug use.
- Norepinephrine. Increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people who have problems with heart and blood circulation.
Because MDMA increases the activity of these chemicals, some users experience negative effects. They may become anxious and agitated, become sweaty, have chills, or feel faint or dizzy.
Even those who don’t feel negative effects during use can experience bad after-effects. Even weeks later, people can experience confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug cravings, and anxiety. This is because of the surge of serotonin caused by MDMA.
MDMA and the Teenage Body
The changes that happen in the brain when using MDMA also affect the body in several ways. These include:
- Increases in heart rate and blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Teeth clenching
- Lowered inhibition (doing things and making decisions that you normally wouldn’t)
- Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Dizziness and faintness
- Chills and/or sweating
- High body temperature (can lead to serious heart, liver, or kidney problems)
- Increased risk for unsafe sex
Because MDMA does not always break down in the body, it can interfere with its metabolism. This can cause harmful levels of the drug to build up in the body if it is taken repeatedly within short periods. High levels of MDMA in the bloodstream can increase the risk of seizures and affect the heart’s ability to beat normally.
It is still unknown if MDMA is addictive. What is known is that MDMA targets the same neurotransmitters that are targeted by other addictive drugs. Researchers are still working to understand MDMA’s addictive properties. But, some users experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms after regular (daily or almost daily) use of the drug is reduced or stopped, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble concentration
Researchers are not sure if MDMA causes long-term brain changes or if such effects are reversible when someone stops using the drug. However, studies have shown that some heavy MDMA users experience problems that are long-lasting, including confusion, depression, and problems with memory and attention.
A person can die from MDMA use. The drug can cause problems with the body’s ability to control temperature, especially when it is used in active and hot settings (like dance parties or concerts). On rare occasions, overheating can lead to a sharp rise in body temperature (known as hyperthermia), which can cause liver, kidney or heart failure or even death.