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The Common Club Drug Can Lead To Serious Consequences Once The Party’s Over.

April 30th, 2004

By Louis Wittig : eCureMe Staff Writer
April 28th, 2004 : Physician Reviewed

It goes by an almost infinite number of names: ecstasy, E, green triangles, happy pills, lover’s special, white diamonds and x pills. But regardless of its moniker, the drug that has become familiar to a generation of partygoers across the globe can leave its users grappling with a host of short and long-term aftereffects that are anything but festive.


If none of its many names rings a bell, here are the basics:

Ecstasy usually comes in pill form (though some users prefer to crush the pills and snort or inject the powder) and its proper, chemical name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA for short). Originally developed for use in the pharmaceutical industry in the early 1900s, the compound, which is usually manufactured in doses between 60 and 120 milligrams, is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. Users report that in the three to six hours after they take it, the drug increases their energy level, alters their perception of space and time and makes them more sensitive to being touched.

Largely obscure for most of the century, the drug developed a small following among mental health professionals in the 1970s. The therapists claimed that by giving MDMA to certain patients, they could make great strides in talking about and understanding their psychological problems. Without any evidence of its effectiveness, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency essentially outlawed MDMA in 1985.

It was also during the early 1980s that the drug first began appearing on the street. By the early to mid-1990s, it had developed a wide fan base among young partygoers who attended all night dance events known as "raves." In upping the user’s energy and sensitivity to touch, MDMA enhances the experience of marathon dancing. While it’s impossible to tell exactly how many people are using the drug, a 2002 study found that 10 million teens and adults had taken it at least once in their lifetime; in 2000 the number was only 6.4 million. In addition, emergency room visits related to ecstasy use jumped 94% between 1999 and 2001.Data indicates that the drug’s user base still tends to be under 25 years old and associated with raves and dance clubs.

However new findings from Australian researchers suggest the drug may be undergoing yet another evolution. A survey of user habits presented in April reported that instead of just using MDMA to enhance their rave experiences, a growing number of users are taking ecstasy to heighten everyday activities like going to a bar, hanging out with friends or even grocery shopping.

The Agony of Ecstasy

When it finds its way into the bloodstream, MDMA causes the brain to release a large amount of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Normally, these chemicals allow different areas of the brain to communicate with one another and are responsible for regulating things like mood, sleep and perception of pain. When they’re thrown out of synch by ecstasy, they create the mood altering and stamina enhancing effects the user is after.

While MDMA hasn’t been shown to do as much damage to the body as higher profile drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, the chemical fireworks that it causes in the brain can produce damaging, and occasionally deadly, ripples throughout the body.

In the short-term, studies have shown, MDMA breaks down the brain’s ability to monitor and control the body’s temperature. When taken in crowded clubs, amidst strenuous dance routines, this can lead to heat exhaustion as ecstasy users dance without knowing how hot their bodies are becoming. In a few, extreme cases, this reaction has lead to death from heat stroke. Also rare, but not unknown, are cases where ecstasy use has precipitated seizures, muscle breakdown, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke. MDMA can also contribute to the development of serious heart defects. In February, researchers found that MDMA triggered changes on the surface of the heart that allowed blood to leak back into the organ. In 1997, the diet drug Fen-Phen was found to instigate the same reaction and the Food and Drug Administration quickly pulled it off the market.

Psychological difficulties can result as well. Confusion, depression, trouble paying attention and memory impairment are likely to develop in the days and weeks following use, as a result of the damage the drug does to nerve cells in the process of releasing neurotransmitters. Sustained use of ecstasy can lead to long-lasting, potentially permanent memory damage. Another study released last February revealed that users who make a habit of MDMA are 23% more likely to report difficulty with their long-term memory.

Additional health problems can arise from substances that are frequently found to adulterate ecstasy tablets. Many of the pills available off the street contain cocaine, caffeine and methamphetamines.

As MDMA becomes a fixture among illegal drugs, research on its effects will likely continue, giving potential users more to ponder as they weigh whether or not ecstasy is worth the risk.

Contact Louis Wittig at

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