Ecstasy is an illicit drug that is classified as a stimulant. Its proper name is MDMA (3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), and it is typically consumed orally by means of a capsule or tablet. Ecstasy is a synthetic drug, meaning that it is manufactured and isn't naturally occurring or harvested like drugs such as marijuana. Ecstasy is a psychoactive drug, and when someone takes Ecstasy they will typically experience a boost in energy, a sense of euphoria, and changes in the way they perceive things such as time and space, along with enhanced tactile experiences. In a 2009 survey, over a quarter of a million people in the U.S. alone reported having used Ecstasy in the past 30 days. From 2002 to 2009, lifetime use of the drug increased significantly 10.2 million people 14.2 million. The drug is also experiencing a surge in new users, with over one million Americans trying it for the first time in 2009.
The drug first became popular among party-goers who attended "raves" or among young adults who partied in night clubs, as Ecstasy can help a person sustain enough energy to dance for hours. The same is not true today and the profile of the Ecstasy user is much more broad, and it is used by millions of people each year of all ethnicities and backgrounds. The use of Ecstasy has become particularly popular in the gay community for example, where individuals will typically use the drug in combination with other illicit or prescription drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, Viagra, etc. as part of a multi-drug experience.
Individuals experience an Ecstasy high because of the way the drug affects the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. One of those chemicals is known as serotonin. This chemical is responsible for regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. So when someone takes Ecstasy, it causes substantially elevated levels of this naturally occurring "feel good" chemical and the user experiences the typical Ecstasy high. So the Ecstasy user is causing chemical changes in the brain, and surges of serotonin at levels that their body could not possibly produce on its own. Ecstasy also affects another chemical in the brain known as norepinephrine, which causes the user to experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Like most other drugs of abuse, Ecstasy also causes a release and excess levels of the brain chemical known as dopamine, but to a much lesser extent.
Ecstasy users are sometimes under the impression that the drug is harmless, but nothing could be further from the truth. Ecstasy users are constantly putting themselves at risk of many side effects. Some of these side effects can be mild, but some can cause permanent damage both psychologically and physically, and some can even be life threatening. For example, Ecstasy users sometimes experience a sense of confusion, depression, sleep problems and severe anxiety. These types of side effects are extremely common, and can last for days or even weeks.
Individuals who have used Ecstasy over an extended period of time typically perform more poorly than individuals who don't use the drug in activities which require cognitive function and memory. Extensive research has been done on the damage that Ecstasy can have on the brain, and animal studies have shown that exposure to the drug for just a few days can cause brain damage that is still evident several years later. These studies have all come to one conclusion; Ecstasy is a very harmful drug which is not suitable for human consumption.
It is also a common misconception that Ecstasy is not addictive, and this too is far from the truth. This too has been researched thoroughly, with one survey of young adult and adolescent users reporting that 43% of those who used the drug met the criteria for dependence. Dependence is defined as continuing to use a drug or substance despite the known consequences, such as physical or psychological harm. And like all other drug of abuse, individuals who use Ecstasy will also typically experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug. This is indicative of some level of depend as well, and Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and trouble concentrating.
On rare occasions, Ecstasy use can be lethal due to the stimulant properties of the drug. Because Ecstasy increases heart rate and blood pressure, individuals with known or unknown pre-existing medical conditions such as circulatory problems or heart disease may be prone to heart attack or stroke when taking the drug. The drug can also cause a spike in body temperature. This is known as hyperthermia, a condition which can damage the liver and kidneys and also cause cardiovascular system failure. Hyperthermia can be fatal, and Ecstasy users are always at risk. On rare occasions, Ecstasy can even interfere with its own metabolism meaning that the user's body won't break the drug down quickly enough, so after repeated doses they can end up with potentially harmful levels of the drug in their system.
MDA and PMA are drugs which are similar to Ecstasy and have been associated with fatalities in the United States and Australia. Unfortunately, these drugs are sometimes sold as Ecstasy and individuals may consume a potentially fatal dose of these drugs. MDA and PMA are neurotoxic, which can present risks for the user, especially when they think they are taking Ecstasy when in fact it is an even more harmful drug. It is also possible to encounter ecstasy tablets which contain other substances, such as ephedrine which is a stimulant, or dextromethorphan which is a cough suppressant or ketamine which is an anesthetic, or even caffeine, cocaine and methamphetamine. One can imagine the dangers involved when an individual is taking such drugs without any knowledge, and the risks associated with drug interactions, etc. Ecstasy use in itself is risky enough and comes with a myriad of consequences, so mixing Ecstasy with other harmful substances greatly enhances the user's risk of experiencing serious side effects which can be permanent or life threatening.