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Drugs, Inc. Facts: Ecstasy

What You Should Know About Ecstasy

Photo: Ecstasy pills in a bag

Photo: Ecstasy pills in a bag (View larger version)

Photo by: NGC / G Browne

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  • Ecstasy, also known as 3,4 methylenedioxymetham-phetamine or "MDMA" for short, is a stimulant related to the drugs mescaline and amphetamine. Other names for MDMA are "Adam," "XTC," or just "E."

  • MDMA can be taken orally, dabbed onto the tongue or swallowed as a pressed tablet. Some users choose to wrap MDMA powder in a napkin before swallowing - this practice is called “bombing”. It can also be snorted or taken anally which is known as “plugging”.

  • The chemical MDMA was first synthesized in Germany in 1912, with the aim of creating an appetite suppressant. In the late 1970’s, a group of US therapists attempted to utilize it within psychotherapy.

  • MDMA has been central to the phenomenon of rave; symbolically, socially and pharmacologically. The dawn of acid house in 1988 saw an explosion of unlicensed raves and affordable ecstasy; it quickly became dubbed “the second summer of love”.

  • Although predominately used in a club setting, MDMA use has recently moved to private environments, house parties, college dorms and high schools.

  • MDMA works by causing the brain to release the neurotransmitter serotonin and then blocking it’s reuptake. As the brain floods with this chemical, the user experiences a swell of euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others and a heightened perception of sounds and colors.

  • MDMA’s effects are so unusual that an entirely new drug classification has been created specifically for it: the ‘empathogens’.

  • The rush of the ecstasy experience is followed by a period of low mood known as a comedown. This is due to depletion of the brain’s supply of serotonin. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, paranoia and trouble sleeping.

  • In the US alone, more than 12 million people have taken Ecstasy.

  • When using MDMA it is important to replace fluids lost through sweating. However as MDMA can cause the body to release a hormone which prevents the production of urine, ingesting too much water can interfere with the body's salt balance resulting in harm, even death.

  • Ecstasy tablets may contain other substances, such as ephedrine (a stimulant); dextromethorphan (DXM, a cough suppressant); ketamine (a disassociative hallucinogen); caffeine; cocaine; and methamphetamine.

  • In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. On rare but unpredictable occasions, this can lead to a sharp increase in temperature, which can result in liver, kidney, cardiovascular system failure, or death.

  • Users often carry bottles of water and pacifiers - items used to counteract side effects of MDMA such as dehydration, dry-mouth and jaw-clenching. Dancers at raves use glowsticks and small handheld lights used to enhance the visual effects of ecstasy.

  • MDMA is sometimes used in conjunction with other drugs. As this practise has become more common, popular combinations have developed their own names; E with LSD is called Candy flipping, E with ketamine is called kitty flipping and E with psilocybin is called hippy flipping.

  • Ecstasy tablets are ‘branded’ with small logos pressed into the surface of the pills. Common imprints include Batmans, doves, smiley faces, hearts and angels.

  • The production of sassafras oil, which is the primary ingredient of MDMA, is causing serious ecological damage in South East Asia. Rare sassafras trees are chopped down, shredded and boiled in jungle labs in order to produce safrole-rich oil, which is processed further to create ecstasy.

  • In 2009, more than 14 metric tons of safrole-rich oil, the precursor to ecstasy, was seized in Cambodia

  • Since 2000, the US government has backed research into the use of MDMA in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In one study PTSD sufferers used ecstasy in conjunction with psychotherapy; after two months 80% of them showed no symptoms compared with only 25% of the placebo group.

  • Ketamine is a disassociative anaesthetic, that has a combination of stimulant, depressant, hallucinogenic, and analgesic properties

  • Ketamine works by separating the brain’s thalamo-neocortical and limbic systems, essentially blocking the mind from receiving sensory input. Perception increases to fill the gap vacated by the senses and gives rise to powerful hallucinations.

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