Recreational Ecstasy Use: Popularity, Effects and Treatment

Ecstasy is a drug that has hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like qualities. The drug is often taken at parties, especially raves since it keeps the user in a good mood and increases energy. The pills are small and round, and usually white, yellow or brown in color, but the drug can also be injected. Ecstasy is also known as Eve, Clarity, Lover’s Speed or simply X. Ecstasy can also be mixed with other illegal substances to enhance the effects of the drug, making it even more physically and mentally dangerous. MDMA was created in 1914 as an appetite suppressant, but wasn’t deemed illegal in the U.S. until 1985. It was also used as a psychotherapeutic drug in the 1970s and 80s, and when many doctors would not prescribe this drug to patients due to its potential dangers, it was sold on the street. Even today, some use the drug to curb their appetite and lose weight, which can lead to permanent physical damage. Ecstasy appears to be part of subculture, and despite all the dangerous side effects that go along with taking it, people still want to use it.

Those who use ecstasy provides pleasurable feelings like an enhanced sense of confidence; the pill can also boost energy, enabling partygoers to dance for long periods of time, which is why the drug is so popular at social gatherings. According to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, ecstasy can also cause people to feel more empathetic toward one another, which could lead to inappropriate public affection or conversation as ecstasy also increases a person’s desire to touch others. These, however, are just some of the immediate effects of taking MDMA.

As with all recreational drugs, there are unfavorable side effects, some of which could have long-term effects on the user’s health.

Since a person under the influence of MDMA does not have much control over his/her inhibitions, the user is more likely to make precarious decisions such as drinking too much or leaving a venue with a virtual stranger. Involuntary teeth clenching, chills and sweating, or blurred vision can also result from ecstasy use, which can interfere with a person’s ability to complete normal tasks like driving or performing office duties. Because the drug stimulates the central nervous system, some users will experience insomnia, anxiety, or manic depression. This is because MDMA damages the cells in the body that produce serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate the mood, and also tells the body when to eat, sleep or retain information (Stoppard, 49).

Many users start to show impaired short term memory, but don’t realize that their long term memory has been affected until years after the drug use has occurred. Users who took 10 or more pills in the first year showed damage of the hippocampus, and this can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and disorientation later in life, even if a person does not have a family history of Alzheimer’s. However, the immediate “benefits” of taking ecstasy are so appealing to users that they do not consider the final harm the drug has on their bodies. One is drawn to the fact that ecstasy immediately makes one more affectionate and confident. MDMA can boost the mood right away, and makes a person feel carefree and trusting of others. Those who many normally are withdrawn or anti-social sometimes experiment, with ecstasy, to artificially enhance their social skills.  Taking ecstasy for months or years at a time can cause an elevation in blood pressure, as well as a dangerous increase in heart rate. The Partnership for a Drug Free America also reports that some users have seizures. Ecstasy strips the body of moisture, leading to severe dehydration and failure of the kidneys and liver (Stoppard, 62).

The Partnership confirms that cardiovascular failure has been reported to be the cause of some fatalities associated with ecstasy use. Still, young people feel a societal pressure to take ecstasy to fit in at parties. The compulsion to be the most engaging, funny, upbeat person in a social setting can be daunting for many teens. Many first-time users put pressure on themselves to do whatever is necessary to be popular with their peers. This desire often outweighs the teen’s better judgment, leading him/her to make a split-second decision that could lead to a lifetime of health complications.  Even though, ecstasy was once associated with all-night parties and raves, and was used mainly by Caucasian teens, the drug is starting to make its way to other demographics. Reports from the University of Texas indicate that more ethnic groups are experimenting with ecstasy. In Chicago, an ecstasy pill can be purchased for between $12 -$15, is still used mostly by White youth. However, reports are increasing that African American adults in their 20s and 30s are using the drug, as well. Reports from New York also indicate that MDMA is being distributed in urban clubs for the same reasons “ravers” favor ecstasy.  Evidence does not suggest that African Americans are attending more raves, where ecstasy is commonly distributed. However, increased MDMA use in the African American community may be due to the euphoric feeling the drug induces (Stopes, 23).

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also stated in a 2007 report that ecstasy is, unfortunately, becoming more popular with urban gay males. Reports reveal that some bisexual and gay mean take MDMA to feel more at ease in a number of clubs and party venues. This is of foremost concern since ecstasy is linked to risky behavior and increases the risk of sexual promiscuity. A number of gay males in metropolitan areas report using MDMA along with other drugs like marijuana, ketamine or cocaine.

Frequent or even intermittent use can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. There is also an increased risk of hepatitis if the addict is taking ecstasy through injection (Stoppard, 45).

Fortunately, according to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teen MDMA use has decreased dramatically. The study shows that ecstasy use has decreased among eight graders from 5.2 percent to 2.6 percent, from 2001 to 2011. The numbers are similar for young people in the 10th and 12th grades.  The Institute also shows there is no way to know how many times a person can take ecstasy before becoming addicted. This reduction in ecstasy use may also be a result of “peer pressure.” One of the main reasons young people start using ecstasy is to fit. Now, that more teens are refusing to take the drug and making better health-related choices, it is likely that this trend is prompting other young people to do the same. It can be difficult for an MDMA user to recognize when they have overdosed on the drug; however, symptoms like trouble urinating, the inability to sweat, tremors, uncontrolled body movement, not being able to speak properly, or being extremely hot are likely to occur. Users may also faint or collapse often. Individuals who are exhibiting these symptoms should get emergency medical treatment right away, since taking too much MDMA can be fatal. MDMA can be detected in the urine for up to four days after use (Stopes, 49).

There are several treatment options for those who are suffering from ecstasy addiction. Simply abstaining from the drug, especially if the user does not have a considerable amount of MDMA in his/her system, this solution could be effective.

However, the recovering addict could start using again, especially if he/she stays in the same social circles as ecstasy is used mainly as a party drug. Usually, an addict will only take MDMA alone if he/she is going to a party or social gathering, or needs to be particularly engaging in a family or professional scenario (Stopes, 50).

Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms can include extreme fatigue, unusual detached and unrealistic sense of reality, sleeplessness and panic attacks. Some users could experience severe depression when trying to stop using MDMA, which makes breaking the addiction much more difficult. Being easily agitated or overly anxious can also indicate ecstasy withdrawal. The longer a person has been using MDMA, the more severe the symptoms will be (Ours, 56).

While an ecstasy user’s need to fit in and be seen as popular is the principle reason for trying the drug, the brain soon becomes dependent on the substance. The user may soon feel that it is necessary to take MDMA in social setting—even among people with whom the user should feel completely comfortable.   Because of this, a detoxification program is best for those who suffer from ecstasy addiction. Recreation therapy, in which the addict takes up a healthy hobby to replace MDMA addiction, has also proven to be effective for some addicts. This is mainly due to physical activity like walking, biking or playing a sport helps to restore the body’s tissues and muscles, and can repair some of the cells in the body that balance the mood and sense of well-being. Some drug counselors also anger management as a tool for helping an individual overcome ecstasy addiction. In some cases, the addict began using MDMA to feel happier or more upbeat, so a healthier solution must be introduced to replace ecstasy use. Group or family therapy has also proven to be a viable treatment for ecstasy addiction, according to CRC Health Group. (Lander, Philip, 45).

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