Ecstasy (MDMA): Effects, Dangers & Treatment

Ecstasy is a popular illicit drug, with around 2,199,000 Americans (0.8%) reporting past-year use in 2021.1 Despite its popularity, ecstasy use has serious risks and can have lasting consequences.

This page will discuss ecstasy, its dangers, and addiction treatment options.

What is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is another name for the synthetic drug known as 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Ecstasy is what’s known as a substituted amphetamine drug, and it has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties.2

Ecstasy is often used in tablet or capsule form but may also be found as a crystalline powder, often called “Molly.”2 The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies ecstasy as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is an illicit drug that has no recognized medical use.2

The use of ecstasy is most common among young males 18–25 years of age, with the average person beginning use at the age of 21.2

Effects & Health Risks of Ecstasy (MDMA) Use

When someone takes an ecstasy tablet or capsule, they will usually feel the effects within 45 minutes, with the sensations peaking around 15 to 30 minutes later and lasting about 3 hours.2

While high on ecstasy, people will often experience alterations in their perception of sights and sounds, increased stimulation, and euphoria. People may also feel the desire to be close to others and be open to talking through emotional memories.2

In addition to the effects noted above, people that use ecstasy may experience the following adverse effects and health issues: 2

  • Depersonalization
  • Illogical thinking
  • Headache
  • Faintness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Sweating
  • Chills and hot flashes
  • Jaw clenching
  • Muscle and joint stiffness

People often take a second dose of ecstasy as the effects of the first dose start to fade, thus increasing the chance of negative effects as these two doses combine.2

Some people report feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, aggression, and problems with paying attention for days after taking MDMA.2

In addition—because ecstasy can make people feel more trusting of one another—its use may encourage unprotected sex and subsequently the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other communicable illnesses.3

MDMA and Polydrug Use

MDMA is frequently used in conjunction with other substances, such as alcohol and cocaine, and the drug itself may contain other drugs or adulterants the person using it is unaware of, such as:2

Polydrug use can intensify the effects of ecstasy and further increase the risks of overdose and other health complications.2,4

Ecstasy (MDMA) Overdose Symptoms

Fatal overdose on ecstasy is rare, but not impossible.2 Symptoms of an ecstasy overdose may include: 2,5

  • Panic attacks.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Delirium.
  • Seizures
  • Dangerously elevated body temperature, also known as hyperthermia.
  • Hyponatremia, which is abnormally low sodium levels.
  • Cardiovascular complications, including irregular heartbeat and increased stroke risk.
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown).
  • Kidney injury.
  • Serotonin syndrome.

The use of ecstasy in warm, crowded areas (such as a nightclub or rave) and physical activities like dancing can increase the risk of hyperthermia and feeling dehydrated. However, drinking too much water while taking MDMA can increase the risk of brain swelling and electrolyte imbalances.2

The presence of fentanyl or other opioids in ecstasy increases the risk of overdose.6 If opioid involvement is suspected in an overdose, administering Narcan (naloxone) quickly can prevent opioids from binding to receptors, allowing normal breathing to resume and buying time for emergency services to arrive.7

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Though ecstasy influences the activity within a similar set of neurotransmitter systems as other reinforcing or addictive drugs, the question of whether or not it’s addictive like those drugs haven’t been definitively answered. Unfortunately, there have been few studies on MDMA addiction in the general population, and those that exist often used different population samples and measures.2

That said, research has established that:2

  • Ecstasy affects some of the same brain chemicals that are impacted by addictive substances (e.g., dopamine, serotonin).
  • Some people report signs of disordered use of MDMA, including cravings, developing tolerance to ecstasy, using it despite negative consequences, and symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Animals will self-administer ecstasy, which is an indication of addictive potential, although the self-administration is not as intense as has been shown with highly addictive substances like cocaine.

Whether or not someone develops a substance use disorder—the clinical term for addiction—also depends on contributing factors like:8

  • Genetics. Researchers believe someone’s genetics and epigenetics (the influence of environment on genes) account for 40 to 60% of their potential for addiction.
  • Environment. This can include parent’s alcohol and drug use or criminal activity as well as the influence of their peers and school.
  • Substance use at a young age. Research shows this increases the likelihood of developing significant problems with drugs.

Ecstasy Addiction Treatment at AdCare

Recovery from addiction is possible with professional help. Addiction treatment usually involves:9

  • Various behavioral therapies.
  • Peer support.
  • Psychoeducation.
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders.

AdCare provides the above treatment approaches and more through inpatient drug rehab in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as well as multiple levels of outpatient care.

Call us at today to talk about your options for treating ecstasy addiction. Our admissions staff can help you learn more about how to get admitted to rehab, as well as how to use health insurance for addiction treatment. You can also verify your insurance coverage using the confidential .

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