Ecstasy (MDMA) use in the United States is making a sharp comeback partly because of the increased activity of Canadian manufacturers of the drug. Today’s ecstasy is not the same drug as it was in the 1990s, meaning that the health risks are far more severe now than they were for people who used MDMA even as little as a decade ago. This renewed popularity, potency and production levels have resulted in increasing numbers of people using ecstasy and subsequently seeking help from an addiction treatment facility for medical detox and inpatient drug rehab – both of which can be lifesaving programs .
History of Ecstasy
The scientific name for ecstasy is methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA for short. Other street names for this synthetic (man-made) drug include: 007s, E, herbal bliss, smurfs and white diamonds – just to name a few.
Merck – a German chemical company- first patented MDMA in 1913. However, the company decided not to pursue marketing of the drug and therefore it remained untapped in medical and illicit markets for decades.
There were no significant studies conducted on the drug until the mid-seventies when Dr. Alexander Shulgin discovered that MDMA lacked the intense psychedelic effects of similar drugs. “It caused this extraordinary, disinhibiting, honest response to self-image that I found to be unique, and I still believe it to be unique.” (1) He believed MDMA could be a powerful therapeutic tool and for several years a colleague of his distributed the drug the therapists worldwide.
But in the 1980’s congress passed a law giving the DEA the legal authority to place an emergency ban on any substances believed to be a risk to public health. These regulations were immediately executed, and a ban was placed on the use, transfer, manufacture and possession of ecstasy on July 1st, 1985.
Illicit use of the drug reached its peak during the early 90’s. A favorite party drug, ecstasy became an integral element of the rave culture – a group of people known for large, all-night gatherings and parties that often involve many different types of drugs. However, it wasn’t until ecstasy was blamed for numerous deaths that it began to fall out of favor and eventually became difficult to obtain.
Today all of this is changing, and ecstasy use is on the rise once again.
Ecstasy is a serious cause for alarm because this designer drug is now more potent, creating concerns that this renewed popularity will result in even more catastrophic effects than it did during the 1990’s. Not only does the current market feature a population who used ecstasy in the past, but there is also a vulnerable population of young people who were not old enough to take part in the 90’s rave era and are therefore naïve to the potential dangers.
Some ecstasy pills are now stronger, more expensive and are available in pill or powder form. People take it in smaller or fewer doses for the same high but if one doesn’t know that they have acquired a more potent dose than they are accustomed to, the risk of overdose increases.
The social scene of ecstasy use is also changing, with the drug becoming a more socially-accepted habit among certain groups. Fiona Measham, a criminology researcher from Lancaster University, says “People will buy a bag and share it round, re-dosing throughout the night… It’s become a shared experience.” (2)
Transnational criminal organizations (TCO’s) utilize multiple ports of entry (POE) to smuggle ecstasy into the United States. “MDMA is generally transported from POEs in Washington, Michigan, New York, and Vermont to markets throughout the United States… The amount of MDMA seized along the Northern Border increased overall from more than 1 .9 million tablets in FY2006 to more than 3 .9 million tablets in FY2010, the greatest amount seized in the past 5 years” (3)
Daniel Lemisch, chief of the criminal division of the Detroit US Attorney’s Office, states “Our typical courier used to be a suburban female bringing over a couple (of) thousand pills… We’re now seeing well organized drug traffickers, involving Canadian truck drivers.” (4)
With the drug’s popularity and availability increasing, it is vital to educate the public on the risks of using ecstasy and encourage people to seek help when they succumb to tolerance, dependence and outright addiction.
Ecstasy Side Effects: Risk -vs- Reward
Ecstasy users find the effects of the drug so euphoric that it is hard for them to accept the medical risks associated with its use. Symptoms associated with the ecstasy high include:
• Sense of inner peace and self-acceptance
• Amplified sensory perception
• Euphoric altered consciousness
• Feelings of intimacy and love
• Diminished aggression or jealousy
• Diminished fear or anxiety
• Empathy, compassion and forgiveness
• Self Confidence
• Increases energy, alertness and motivation
• Mild hallucinations
Signs of ecstasy consist of the typical symptoms most feel after the effects of the drug have worn off, or symptoms resulting from an overdose. The following are common symptoms related to ecstasy use that can take weeks to wear off and may be present intermittently with seemingly no explanation:
• Loss of appetite
• Impaired attention and concentration
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Reduced motivation and focus
• Jaw Soreness from bruxism
• Anxiety and Paranoia
These common side effects have resulted in the term “Tuesday Blues” or “Suicide Tuesday.” Consequences of these ecstasy-induced physical and emotional states vary from poor behavior choices to suicide or increased ecstasy use to regain the desired high. Tolerance to the drug can lead to significantly increased dosing that may cause dangerous side effects:
• Hypomania or full-blown mania
• Hallucination and/or delusions
• De-realization or depersonalization
• Memory impairment
• Disorganized thinking
• Acute delirium
• Involuntary eye movements
• Muscle spasms
• Over reactive reflexes
• Heart palpitations
• Damage to the heart and/or heart failure
• Severe hyperthermia
• Organ failure
• Rapid breathing and/or shortness of breath
• Severe chest pains
• Cardiac arrhythmia
• Loss of consciousness
• Destruction of blood vessels
• Possible brain damage
• Coma or death
Users develop a tolerance to the drug so over time they end up taking more to achieve the same result and quitting becomes psychologically very difficult. It is rare for severe physical symptoms associated with withdrawal to be present, however undergoing detoxification in a professional setting is still recommended.
Quitting under the medical supervision of substance abuse and addiction professionals ensures that if the ecstasy pills have other psychotropic drugs mixed in with them, the side effects associated with those fillers can also be treated. The education received from a drug treatment center regarding post acute withdrawal syndrome (the series of symptoms that cause many addicts to relapse) is an essential component of reducing the likelihood of relapse.
The risks of ecstasy use are very real and can forever alter or even destroy the lives of those who use it, and the people who care about them. If you or a loved one struggles with ecstasy addiction, don’t wait. Help is available 24/7 by calling our addiction specialists at the number at the top of your screen. We have powerful drug rehab programs available right now to help stop the addiction for the rest of your life.
(1) Surfing the Rave: Ecstasy – BLTC Research
(2) Katie Silver – Ecstasy makes a comeback: The rave drug of the 1990s is back but this time it’s stronger, pricier and in powder form – Mail online – 11/21/11