Ecstasy is a recreational party drug, most famous for its use in nightclubs and all-night raves. Known commonly as “X” or “Molly”, ecstasy produces euphoric effects that are both stimulating and mildly hallucinogenic. Individuals who take this drug often report a sustained increase in energy and heightened emotional sensitivity, which has led to its label as the “love drug”.

While ecstasy is not as physically addictive as other drugs like cocaine, psychological or emotional dependence can develop because of its mood-elevating properties. However, there is hope for recovery for those who become addicted to ecstasy. With multiple treatment options available, individuals can restore their health and lead new lives free from addiction.

Before going into the treatment methods that are available for ecstasy addiction, below is an outline of what ecstasy is and what its long-term effects are.

What Is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is the street name for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), a synthetic drug that produces strong feelings of euphoria. In its pill form the drug is usually referred to as ecstasy, and in its powder form it is known as “Molly”. This name is short for “molecular” and refers to MDMA’s appearance as a fine, white powder.

As a Schedule I Controlled Substance, ecstasy is illegal to buy, use, or sell in the U.S. Initially used as a recreational drug at raves and college parties, ecstasy consumption has since expanded across other populations and is one of the most widely used substances among young adults.

Ecstasy’s appeal is its euphoric and energizing effects — hence its long-term use at all-night parties. It is often described as a mix between a hallucinogenic and a stimulant and generates strong feelings of empathy, well-being, and distorted sensory and time perception.

Other common names for ecstasy include:

  • Adam
  • Beans
  • Cadillac
  • California Sunrise
  • Candy
  • Clarity
  • E
  • Essence
  • Eve
  • Happy Pill
  • Hug Drug
  • Lover’s Speed
  • Molly
  • Scooby Snacks
  • Snowball
  • Uppers
  • X
  • XTC

Ecstasy Abuse Statistics

Ecstasy use is most common among teens and young adults. According to SAMHSA, more than 18 million Americans aged 12 and older reported using ecstasy in 2016. In addition, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the number of individuals who use ecstasy amounts to 9 million people worldwide.

Other statistics include:

  • In 2014, the highest rates of ecstasy use were among people aged 18 to 25.
  • 92% of people who use ecstasy are known to use other drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin.
  • According to the American Journal of College Health, 46% of college students who use MDMA also use cocaine.
  • Emergency room visits due to ecstasy have risen by 1,200% since it first became the “drug of choice” at all-night raves.
  • In 2018, 1.6% of 8th graders, 2.4% of high school sophomores, and 4.1% of high school seniors reported trying ecstasy.

The History of Ecstasy

Ecstasy was first synthesized by a German scientist named Anton Köllisch from Merck pharmaceuticals. At the time, Köllisch was instructed to develop an analog substance that stopped abnormal breathing. One of the intermediate compounds of this analog was MDMA (known back then as methylsafrylamin, safrylmethylamin, or N-Methyl-a-Methylhomopiperonylamin).

As research on the substance continued from 1920 to the early 1950s, it was found that MDMA produced similar effects on the body as ephedrine. However, research halted on MDMA at Merck due to the high cost of safrylmethylamine, one of the synthesizing compounds.

Other researchers across the country continued to study MDMA into the late 1960s. It wasn’t until American chemist Alexander Shulgin began experimenting with MDMA synthesis that knowledge of the drug expanded. In the mid-1970s, Shulgin performed a series of self-tests with the drug after a colleague said MDMA had amphetamine-like effects.

Shulgin later reported on the drug’s ability to induce an altered state of consciousness with emotional and sensual overtones. He also suggested it would be a useful tool in therapy due to its disinhibiting effects. After passing the compound on to colleagues and friends, MDMA soon became a tool in psychotherapy for issues such as depression, relationship troubles, autism, and substance abuse.

Recreational Use

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, ecstasy became a recreational drug as it spread through personal networks of psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and researchers. By the late 1970s, a small market for MDMA grew, with production being dominated largely by a group of Boston chemists.

Ecstasy then grew into a larger commercial enterprise when a group of Texan business owners mass-produced MDMA and sold the tablets via pyramid sales structures. The drug was sold under the name “Sassyfrass” where it was marketed in bottles and promoted via “ecstasy parties” at discos and nightclubs.

Recreational use continued thereafter as other labs began producing more and more samples of MDMA. By the mid-1980s, ecstasy production ramped up and spread to colleges around the U.S. Concerns of abuse led the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to subsequently turn ecstasy into an illegal, controlled substance shortly thereafter.

How Ecstasy Is Taken

Ecstasy is taken in either tablet or powder form. Tablets are the most common method of taking ecstasy, and the pills are famous for their variety of colors and unique imprints. These pills are then swallowed or crushed up and inhaled. Molly, or MDMA in powder form, is either inhaled or packed into capsules and swallowed.

MDMA in its pure form is rare; in fact, most tablets and powders are cut with other substances. It is therefore notoriously difficult to know what’s in an ecstasy tablet or powder unless drug tests are performed. Some of the substances that are cut with ecstasy include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Hallucinogens (PCP, LSD, 2C-B, and ketamine)

How Does Ecstasy Work?

The MDMA component in ecstasy increases the activity of three key brain chemicals:

  • Dopamine: This neurotransmitter is responsible for creating euphoric feelings and increased energy.
  • Norepinephrine: Another neurotransmitter that increases heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Serotonin: Serotonin is known as the “mood” chemical that affects key areas such as appetite, sleep, and sexual urges. When this neurotransmitter is increased, it creates feelings of emotional closeness and elevates a person’s mood.

Depending on the method of taking the drug, ecstasy can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour to produce effects. These effects then last for around 3 to 6 hours.

The Effects of Ecstasy

Ecstasy releases brain chemicals that are responsible for pleasure and energy. If the drug is taken in high doses, it can create an intense high. Some of the short-term effects include:

  • Calmness and relaxation
  • Empathy for others
  • Euphoria
  • Heightened senses
  • Impulsiveness
  • Long-lasting energy
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Reduced anxiety and depression

Side Effects

Ecstasy can also cause a range of uncomfortable side effects, and they will vary according to the individual. They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Blurred vision
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Decreased libido
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sweating
  • Attention problems
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Impulsiveness
  • Insomnia
  • Involuntary teeth clenching or grinding
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea

Common Ecstasy Combinations

Like most drugs, ecstasy is used recreationally with other substances to enhance its effects and achieve a greater high. Some of the most frequent ecstasy combinations include:

Alcohol

Alcohol is the most common drug used with ecstasy. While this is sometimes taken to alter the high, it is usually consumed because alcohol is also available in areas where ecstasy is taken (e.g. at nightclubs or parties).

However, combining alcohol and ecstasy can be dangerous as both are known to cause dehydration. Alcohol also causes increases urination, which can exacerbate dehydration even more. To compensate for this risk, many individuals drink copious amounts of water throughout the night. However, too much water consumption can lead to a risk of hyponatremia, which occurs when there is a severe deficiency in serum sodium levels.

Other risks associated with alcohol and ecstasy include:

  • Prolonged euphoria due to alcohol’s reinforcing effect on MDMA
  • Alcohol poisoning: MDMA can mask the sedative effects of alcohol leading an individual to drink more
  • Cardiac arrest: The combination of MDMA and alcohol can increase cardiac cellular stress and toxicity

Cocaine

Another common combination is cocaine and ecstasy, sometimes referred to as “cloud mind” or “bumping up”. One of the biggest dangers of mixing cocaine and ecstasy is “hyperthermia”, a condition when the body overheats and begins to shut down. This is especially dangerous because ecstasy and cocaine are both known to heighten body temperature.

Also due to their stimulating effects, a cocaine and ecstasy combination can lead to heart attack, stroke, impaired judgment, and increased paranoia. It can also cause severe “crashes” once the drugs wear off as individuals experience depressed moods, anxiety, and sleep issues.

Marijuana

A review in the Journal of Neural Transmission found that 90% of individuals that use ecstasy also use marijuana. The reason this combination is popular is mainly because both are considered social drugs that tend to be available as part of the “party scene”. Others use these two drugs together to enhance the high and minimize the ecstasy comedown.

One of the biggest dangers of mixing marijuana and ecstasy is the impact it can have on memory. Ecstasy disrupts long-term memory formation, while marijuana prevents the formation of new memories. Therefore, long-term use of both substances together can lead to cognitive impairments. Another potential danger is the way these drugs exacerbate underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, particularly during the comedown period.

Ketamine

Ketamine is another drug that is commonly mixed with ecstasy. Individuals often start their night off with ecstasy and then use ketamine at the end to either extend the high or help them come down.

Ketamine is a horse tranquilizer and a dissociative drug that causes people to experience hallucinations and derealization. One of the biggest dangers of mixing these drugs is the effect on memory, especially if they’re taken in high doses. Also, ketamine and ecstasy have hallucinogenic properties, so combining them can lead to intense hallucinations which can cause panic or anxiety.

Signs & Symptoms of Ecstasy Addiction

There is conflicting evidence as to whether the MDMA itself is physically addicting. Unlike other drugs such as methamphetamine, ecstasy doesn’t cause intense withdrawal symptoms. However, it has been shown that tolerance for ecstasy does develop over time, and individuals can become psychologically and emotionally addicted.

It is also worth noting that there is a difference between dependence and addiction. Some individuals who are dependent on the drug may not necessarily go on to be addicted. However, people who form an addiction to ecstasy will exhibit specific physical, psychological, and behavioral signs which negatively impact their personal and social lives.

Physical Signs of Addiction

Individuals who regularly take ecstasy at high doses (or frequently and for long periods) can exhibit physical signs of addiction such as:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Impulsiveness and aggression
  • Sleep troubles
  • Memory loss
  • Concentration problems
  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased pleasure from sex
  • Tolerance

Psychological Signs

Individuals who regularly abuse ecstasy will also exhibit psychological signs of dependence and emotional changes the longer they take the drug. This includes:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Poor decision-making
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss or reduced memory
  • Confusion
  • Exacerbation of existing mental health conditions
  • Regularly taking ecstasy to improve one’s mood

Behavioral Signs

Any sudden changes in behavior can be clear indicators of a problem. While some of the behavioral signs of ecstasy addiction also apply to other drug dependencies, there are a few abuse indications for this drug. These include:

  • Hostile mood
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Uncooperative attitude
  • Worsening performance at school or work
  • Hiding or lying about ecstasy use
  • Difficulties controlling ecstasy use
  • Legal or financial problems
  • Isolation from work, family, and social life
  • Continuing to use ecstasy despite its negative side-effects
  • Spending a great deal of time using, obtaining, or recovering from ecstasy
  • Abusing other substances (poly-substance abuse)

Other Signs of Ecstasy Abuse

Aside from the signs above, there are a few other identifying behaviors to watch out for if you suspect someone has an ecstasy addiction.

Alternating Hyperactivity/Sociability With Lethargy/Depression

Due to the way ecstasy heightens sociability and energy levels, individuals will often experience depression once the drug has worn off. People who chronically use ecstasy will therefore exhibit alternating patterns of sociability, talkativeness, and energy in social situations. This will be followed by periods of depression, anxiety, lethargy, and isolation.

Financial Problems

Like many drug addictions, excessive use can lead to financial burdens. Individuals may struggle to pay for their addiction while maintaining daily living costs such as rent and other bills. Also, long-term drug use may cause them to lose their jobs, resulting in a downward spiral of substance abuse and financial problems.

Overheating Easily in Social Situations

Ecstasy has a direct effect on the sympathetic nervous system, the arousal of which can lead to profuse sweating and overheating in crowded conditions. While this is a common short-term side effect of taking the drug, if someone you know seems to become excited and sweat profusely in crowds, they may be showing signs of addiction or abuse (especially if this behavior is chronic).

Cognitive/Psychiatric Symptoms

Chronic ecstasy use can also exacerbate some of the negative side effects which include confusion, memory loss, or hallucinations. If an individual regularly uses ecstasy, they can end up in a chronic loop of releasing and depleting massive amounts of neurotransmitters.

Long-Term Health Consequences

Long-term ecstasy use can leave lasting and damaging effects on a person’s health, especially when it comes to memory and cognition. The physical consequences of long-term use include, but are not limited to:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Kidney problems
  • Heart disease
  • Degenerated nerve branches and nerve endings
  • Insomnia or chronic sleep cycle disturbance
  • Difficulty with functions such as learning, sleep, and emotion
  • Convulsions
  • Damaged nerves
  • Exhaustion
  • Cracked teeth (from clenching and grinding)
  • Brain swelling
  • Liver damage

The long-term psychological consequences of ecstasy use include:

  • Reduced ability to control their emotions
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Personality changes
  • Increased anxiety
  • Severe depression

Another important thing to look out for is a potential ecstasy overdose. Key signs and symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion, paranoia, and memory loss
  • Dehydration
  • Faintness
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Restlessness

Ecstasy Addiction Resources

At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on RehabAid.com

About the Author

Jenn Tomomitsu, PhD

Jenn is a Canadian writer and poet with a background in psychology, sociology, and natural health. She is the founder of The Master in You, a mental wellness site that provides information about the role that thoughts and emotions play in our physical and emotional health. Jenn is passionate about inner growth and the power of the mind-body connection, and this informs her writing and research on addiction treatment. On Rehabaid, Jenn aims to write accessible, informative content and provide resources that can help people make empowered and informed decisions about their recovery.

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