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
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 louis@eCureMe.com
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