Ecstasy is the common name for the synthetic drug called methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It is classified as an empathogen, which means it increases feelings of empathy and compassion towards others. It also acts as a stimulant, since it speeds up the workings of the central nervous system and at high doses can also alter someone’s perception of reality giving it hallucinogenic qualities.
Ecstasy is commonly used as a mood enhancer at parties and nightclubs. In high doses, ecstasy can cause seizures and vomiting or may contribute to death.
Common slang terms for ecstasy include the ‘love drug’, ‘E’, ‘eckies’, ‘pingers’ and ‘caps’. Ecstasy is usually swallowed as a tablet, but can come in powder form. Pills are usually different colours and have pictures or logos stamped on them. There have also been reports of crystal MDMA in Australia and Victoria in recent years.
The effects of ecstasy are usually felt about 20 minutes to an hour after it is taken and last for around 3-4 hours. The comedown (or return to normal as the drug leaves the body) may last one to two days or up to a week.
How ecstasy (MDMA) is used
MDMA was originally developed in Germany. Today, ecstasy is generally made in illegal laboratories, which means the person taking it has no idea if the dose will be strong or weak, or even if it will contain any MDMA at all.
It is possible for pills sold as ecstasy tablets to contain little or no MDMA. They may contain other chemicals (such as, , PMMA or ), or ‘fillers’ (such as household products) which may have unexpected or dangerous side effects.
Ecstasy usually comes as pills (capsules or tablets), but can come as a powder or crystal. Most people take pills, but some may snort (inhaled through the nose), smoke or inject ecstasy.
How ecstasy (MDMA) works
When we are stressed or under threat, thereadies us for physical action and our bodies react in response. This may include the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones. Key functions like heart rate and may increase, redirecting blood flow into the muscles and away from the gut.
As a nervous system stimulant, ecstasy works by prompting the brain to initiate this ‘fight or flight’ response and the user feels refreshed by a burst of energy.
Ecstasy can distort your experience of reality by influencing perceptions of sight and sound.
Ecstasy is renowned for the feelings of peace and love it invokes. This could be caused by an elevation in brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine).
Risks of ecstasy (MDMA)
People with certain conditions – such as, , , , or – are at greater risk of harm if they take ecstasy.
Ecstasy can be dangerous if it is mixed with other drugs including, , , and some prescription medications (such as antidepressants).
How ecstasy (MDMA) affects the body
The effects of ecstasy can vary from person to person and depend on factors such as:
- the amount and strength of the dose
- your physical make-up and state of mind
- how you respond to the drug (for example, a first-time user may experience different effects to someone who has used it before)
- whether it has been mixed with other drugs.
Generally, effects begin around 20 minutes and will last around 3-4 hours. They may include:
- euphoria and feeling energetic and confident
- accelerated heart rate and breathing
- rise in blood pressure
- and dehydration
- jaw clenching and teeth grinding
- tingling skin and muscle aches and pains
- dilated pupils
- loss of appetite
- heightened senses
- feeling affectionate and an increased
- loss of inhibitions
- excessive thirst – drinking large amounts of water (can result in death).
In addition to these symptoms, people who take ecstasy in large or strong doses, may experience further effects such as:
- changes in perception (such as hallucinations)
- irrational behaviour that seems out of character – aggression,
- and irritability