The 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug that alters the mood and perception (awareness of objects and the surrounding conditions). Its chemical composition is similar to that of stimulants and hallucinogens and generates a sensation of increased energy, pleasure and emotional warmth. In addition, it distorts sensory and temporal perception.
MDMA initially became popular at nightclubs and at all-night parties (” raves “), but the drug now affects a greater variety of people. Commonly, they call it ecstasy or Molly.
How is MDMA used?
People who use MDMA usually swallow it in capsules or tablets as MDMA Pills, although there are those who drink it in liquid form or vacuum the powder. The popular nickname “Molly” (which is the street language for “molecular”) generally refers to the drug in its crystalline and supposedly pure powder form that is usually sold in capsules. However, those who buy the powder or the capsules that are sold as Molly often receive other drugs instead, such as synthetic cathinone (“bath salts”) (see “Additional risks of MDMA” on page 3).
Some folks take club drugs together with an alternative medication, like alcohol or marijuana.
What effect does MDMA have on the brain?
MDMA increases the activity of three chemicals in the brain:
- Dopamine: increases euphoria and generates more energy and activity
- Norepinephrine: accelerates heart rate and raises blood pressure, which is especially risky for people suffering from heart or circulatory problems
- Serotonin: affects mood, appetite, sleep and other functions. It also activates hormones that affect sexual arousal and confidence. The release of large amounts of serotonin is probably what generates the emotional closeness, high mood and empathy felt by people who consume MDMA.
Other effects of the drug on health include:
- Muscle cramps
- Involuntary grinding of teeth
- Blurry vision
- Shaking chills
The effects of MDMA last approximately 3 to 6 hours, although many of those who use the drug take a second dose when the effects of the first begin to disappear. In the week following the moderate consumption of the drug, the person may experience:
- Impulsivity and aggression
- Trouble sleeping
- Attention and memory problems
- Less appetite
- Less pleasure and less interest in sex
It is attainable that a number of these effects are because of the mix of MDMA with different medications, particularly marijuana.
What other effects does MDMA have on health?
High doses of MDMA will have an effect on the body’s ability to control the temperature. This can lead to a peak in body temperature that can sometimes result in liver, kidney or heart failure, or even death.
In addition, as MDMA can promote confidence and emotional closeness, its use – especially if combined with sildenafil (Viagra®) – can encourage unprotected sexual activity. This increases the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV (with the potential complication of AIDS) or hepatitis.
Is MDMA addictive?
Research results differ on whether MDMA is addictive or not. There are experiments that show that animals self-administer methylenedioxymethamphetamine – a vital indicator of the potential for abuse of a drug – though to a lesser extent than with alternative medicine, like a hard drug.
Some people report symptoms of addiction, including the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble concentrating
Does MDMA have therapeutic value?
MDMA was first used in the 1970s as an aid tool in psychotherapy (a treatment for mental disorders that uses “talk therapy”). The drug was not supported by clinical trials (i.e. studies conducted with humans) nor was it approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 1985, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified MDMA as an illegal drug without any recognized medicinal use. Some researchers remain interested in its benefits for psychotherapy when administered to patients under carefully controlled conditions.
How is MDMA addiction treated?
There are no specific medical treatments for MDMA addiction. Some people seeking treatment for this addiction have found help in behavioral therapy. Scientists need to do more research to determine how effective this treatment option is for MDMA addiction.
Points to remember
- The 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. Its chemical composition is similar to that of stimulants and hallucinogens.
- MDMA is commonly known as ecstasy or Molly.
- People who consume MDMA usually take it as a capsule or tablet. Many of the people who use MDMA combine it with other drugs.
- MDMA works by increasing the activity of three chemicals in the brain: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
- The effects include increased energy level, distorted perception, involuntary grinding of teeth, elevated body temperature to dangerous levels and depression.
- Many people are unaware that Ecstasy and the supposedly “pure” Molly often contain not only pure MDMA but also other drugs that can be particularly dangerous when mixed with MDMA.
- Research results differ on whether MDMA is addictive or not. Some people show symptoms of addiction.
- Some people seeking treatment for addiction have found help in behavioral therapy. There are not any specific medical treatments for MDMA addiction.