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Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy/MDMA is a synthetic substance that people often use for its energetic effects and to experience increased feelings of closeness, sexuality, and empathy.1 People who use ecstasy should be aware of what ecstasy is, ecstasy effects, and how ecstasy misuse can potentially lead to addiction.2

Keep reading to learn the facts about ecstasy and how to seek help if you suspect that you, or someone you know, might be struggling with ecstasy misuse or addiction.

What Is Ecstasy (MDMA)?

Ecstasy, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), is a synthetic drug made in labs.1 It is a substance that has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties and is a derivative of amphetamine.2, 3The ecstasy that has been seized by U.S. authorities is primarily manufactured in clandestine labs in Canada and the Netherlands and is smuggled into the US through illegal channels.1 Ecstasy labs have also been found in the US.1

MDMA/Ecstasy is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has no medical benefit and a high potential for misuse.4 People take it because it can promote feelings of emotional warmth, pleasure, heightened or distorted perceptions, and increased energy.2

Ecstasy is the term typically used to refer to MDMA when it is in tablet or capsule form.5 Ecstasy is commonly sold as colorful tablets branded with logos and often mixed with colored candies.1 MDMA is also available as capsules, powders, and liquids.1

The origins of the name “ecstasy” aren’t entirely clear, but reports on the history of ecstasy indicate that the name “ecstasy” was coined in 1981 by Michael Clegg, a former student of theology and early proponent of MDMA.6

Common street names include:1

  • Adams.
  • Beans.
  • Clarity.
  • Disco Biscuit.
  • E.
  • Ecstasy.
  • Eve.
  • Go.
  • Hug Drug.
  • Lover’s Speed.
  • MDMA.
  • Peace.
  • STP.
  • X.
  • XTC.

How Is Ecstasy Used?

The most common ways of using an ecstasy drug include swallowing tablets, which can also be crushed and snorted, smoked, injected, or ingested in the powdered or liquid form.1, 2

People rarely use ecstasy on its own—they commonly misuse it with other substances, particularly alcohol or marijuana.1 People often take ecstasy by ‘stacking’ the tablets, meaning they take 3 or more tablets at the same time, or by ‘piggy-backing’ the tablets, which means they take several tablets over a short period of time.1

Some people, especially young adults, might use ecstasy in a practice called ‘candy-flipping,’ which means that they use MDMA and LSD at the same time.1

The slang term Molly, which is short for “molecular,” usually refers to the crystalline powder form of MDMA, which is sometimes sold in capsules.2 If you buy substances sold as Molly, you can never be sure of their purity, which can make using the substance a very risky practice.2

Confiscated products sold as ecstasy have been found to contain a wide range of substances, such as methamphetamine, the anesthetic ketamine, caffeine, the diet drug ephedrine, and the over-the-counter cough suppressant dextromethorphan heroin, phencyclidine (PCP), and cocaine.5

Ecstasy Effects

Many people are curious about ecstasy effects and how they are produced. Ecstasy works by increasing the activity of specific brain chemicals, primarily serotonin but also norepinephrine and dopamine.1, 2 These chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, play important roles in brain signaling, communication, and functioning.1

Some of the most common ecstasy effects include:

  • Changes in perception.1
  • Euphoria.1
  • A desire for physical closeness.1
  • Increased sensitivity to touch.1
  • Elevated energy.1
  • Increased sexual desire and activity.1
  • Increased feelings of trust.2
  • Increased empathy.2

Ecstasy effects generally start 30 to 45 minutes after you’ve swallowed pills or tablets; effects tend to last around 3 to 6 hours.1, 2 However, effects can also persist for weeks or even months after your last use of the substance.1 People often consume more ecstasy when the effects start to wear off.2

If you use ecstasy, you may experience different effects over the course of the following week, which can include:2

  • Increased aggression.
  • Irritability.
  • Impulsive behavior.
  • Depression.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Anxiety.
  • Problems with memory and attention.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Decreased sexual interest and sexual pleasure.

What Are the Health Effects of Ecstasy?

Using ecstasy may result in potentially adverse short-term and long-term health effects. These can include:

  • Involuntary teeth clenching or grinding.2, 7
  • Blurry vision.2
  • Illogical thoughts.7
  • Severe dehydration.1
  • Restless legs.7
  • Hot flashes or chills.7
  • Loss of consciousness.7
  • Panic attacks.7
  • Gastrointestinal effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.8
  • Increased risk of practicing unsafe sexual behaviors, especially if you also use Viagara; this may lead to a risk of contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.2
  • Risk of long-term and potentially permanent problems with learning and memory.1
  • Serotonergic toxidrome (toxidrome means a syndrome caused by excess toxins in the body). This condition is caused by excess serotonin, which can cause effects like rapid heartbeat, agitation, diarrhea, tremor, lack of coordination, muscle rigidity, overactive reflexes, excessive sweating, elevated body temperature, and muscle twitching.1, 8
  • Sympathomimetic toxidrome, caused by excess norepinephrine and dopamine.9 It causes symptoms such as anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and seizures.8
  • Cardiovascular abnormalities, such as high blood pressure, fast heartbeat, and arrhythmias.8
  • Ecstasy overdose can cause symptoms such as a rapid increase in body temperature, which can lead to liver, kidney, and cardiovascular system failure, and death.1

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

It’s not entirely clear whether ecstasy is addictive.2 Research has shown different results, but some animal studies have indicated animals will self-administer ecstasy in lab tests, which could be a sign of its addictive potential. However, the level of self-administration is lower than with other addictive substances, such as cocaine.2

Additional research has shown that MDMA causes adaptations in serotonin and dopamine systems in the brain that lead to certain behaviors which are associated with addiction.10 Still, there have not been many conclusive studies on ecstasy’s potential to cause addiction, or in people who have used ecstasy.10

However, some people have reported experiencing symptoms of addiction, such as continuing ecstasy use despite the negative consequences, tolerance (needing more of the substance to experience previous effects), cravings, and ecstasy withdrawal symptoms when they stop using ecstasy.10 These symptoms can include:2

  • Fatigue.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Depression.
  • Problems with concentration.

Treatment for Ecstasy Misuse

There is no specific treatment or medication for Ecstasy/MDMA misuse, but studies have shown that behavioral therapy may be helpful for some people.2, 12 More research is needed on potential ecstasy treatments.2

If you are interested in quitting ecstasy, you should know that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that the most effective behavioral therapies for ecstasy misuse include cognitive behavioral methods.12 Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to help you change the thoughts, behaviors, and expectations that contribute to substance misuse and helps you learn healthier ways of coping with life stress without using substances.12

Rehab can help you stop ecstasy misuse and start living a healthier, substance-free life. People can enter inpatient or outpatient treatment. Outpatient rehab can be a helpful form of treatment. You can live at home and attend to your day-to-day activities, and travel to rehab for treatment on a regular schedule.13 It’s usually best for people who have supportive friends and family and a stable home and work environment.13

Inpatient treatment is generally indicated for people who have serious medical or psychiatric issues, such as co-occurring mental health disorders or other issues that require round-the-clock monitoring or also require treatment for polysubstance use, which is common among people who use ecstasy.1, 13

Inpatient rehab can also be helpful because it removes you from your environment and triggers, which allows you to focus on recovery without the temptation to resume substance use.

Long-term ecstasy use has been associated with mental and behavioral problems, such as severe depression, recurrent paranoia, hallucinations, depersonalization, flashbacks, and even psychotic episodes that can persist for long after you’ve stopped using ecstasy.14

Find Treatment for Substance Misuse

If you are experiencing adverse ecstasy effects or struggling with misuse or another substance use disorder, American Addiction Centers (AAC) has facilities across the nation ready to help you begin recovery. Call one of our caring admissions navigators at to learn about treatment options and check your insurance coverage, so you can start your new life today.

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