MDMA, also known as Ecstasy (chemical name 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), is a synthetic, psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. MDMA possesses chemical variations of the stimulant amphetamine or methamphetamine, and a hallucinogen, most often mescaline. MDMA is a “mood elevator” that produces a relaxed, euphoric state.

MDMA is frequently used in combination with other drugs. However, it is not often consumed with alcohol, as alcohol is believed to diminish its effects. It is most often distributed at late-night parties called “raves,” nightclubs and rock concerts. As the rave and club scene expands to metropolitan and suburban areas across the country, MDMA use and distribution are increasing as well.

MDMA is taken orally, usually in tablet form and sometimes as a capsule, in doses ranging from 50 to 150mg. A normal dose is around 100 to 125mg. “Black market” ecstasy tablets vary widely in strength, and often contain other drugs. The size of the pill is not necessarily related to the dose. Its effects peak at about 4 hours and last approximately 4 to 6 hours.

Ecstasy is popular among middle-class teenagers and young adults, and that popularity is not decreasing. Ecstasy is sold primarily at nightclubs and bars, at underground nightclubs sometimes called “acid houses,” or at “raves.”

Effects of MDMA

Users of the drug say that it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for others, elimination of anxiety and extreme relaxation. MDMA is also said to suppress the need to eat, drink or sleep, enabling users to endure 2- to 3-day parties. Consequently, MDMA use sometimes results in severe dehydration or exhaustion.

While it is not physically addictive like heroin or cocaine, MDMA can cause other adverse effects, including nausea, chills, sweating, increases in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping and blurred vision. MDMA users also report aftereffects of anxiety, paranoia and depression. An MDMA overdose is characterized by high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks and, in more severe cases, loss of consciousness, seizures and a drastic rise in body temperature.

MDMA overdoses can be fatal, as they may result in heart failure or extreme heatstroke. Don’t try to treat a person in such a condition yourself. Call 911; if you can’t, get the victim to an emergency center.

Update: An NIDA-supported study has provided the first direct evidence that chronic use of MDMA, causes brain damage in people. Using advanced brain-imaging techniques, the study found that MDMA harms neurons that release serotonin, a brain chemical thought to play an important role in regulating memory and other functions.

In a related study, researchers found that heavy MDMA users have memory problems that persist for at least 2 weeks after they have stopped using the drug. Both studies suggest that the extent of damage is directly correlated with the amount of MDMA use.

“The message from these studies is that MDMA does change the brain, and it looks like there are functional consequences to these changes,” said Dr. Joseph Frascella of NIDA’s Division of Treatment Research and Development. That message is particularly significant for young people who participate in large, all-night dance parties known as “raves,” which are popular in many cities around the Nation. NIDA’s epidemiologic studies indicate that MDMA use has escalated in recent years among college students and young adults who attend these social gatherings.

Is MDMA Addictive?
Ecstasy is not physically addictive. However, the drug can often take on great importance in people’s lives, and some people become rather compulsive in their use. Taken too frequently, MDMA loses its effect on most users, but many users will still continue to take it.