Ecstasy Signs of Use and Side Effects
The symptoms of ecstasy abuse depend on the type of substance being taken and the length or amount of use. Habitual abusers increase their chances of accidental death or addiction. We’ve already covered what ecstasy is, now let’s focus on what it does to the body and brain.
Signs of Ecstasy Use
One of the most common signs of ecstasy use is touching people and surfaces for the tactile pleasure it creates. Groups and pairs of people may be seen hugging and massaging each other. Ecstasy pills that contain pure MDMA heighten the sense of touch and enhance its reputation as a love drug; one of the slang terms for the pill is “Sextasy”. Accessories like baby pacifiers, water bottles, and lollipops are common signs of use. These items help prevent the dehydration and dry mouth associated with taking ecstasy.
Common methods of taking the drug are to ingest the pills or crush and snort them or to dilute the powder or crushed pills in water. Some users take them via a practice called “parachuting”, which involves wrapping the pill inside a folded napkin, crushing it, and swallowing the portion of the napkin containing the pill. Seeing cocktail napkins that have been folded and the center portion ripped out is a tell-tale sign that someone is parachuting the drug.
Ecstasy or Molly?
Getting right down to it, Molly is a white, crystalline powder or clear liquid form of pure MDMA. Ecstasy is supposed to contain the same active ingredient, except pressed into colorful tablets and stamped with a character or symbol; liquid forms of ecstasy often contain GHB instead, which is a nervous system depressant and the active ingredient in drain cleaner and floor stripper. Without a drug testing kit, it’s difficult to know for certain if what’s being ingested is pure MDMA or something else.
A common substitute for MDMA is MDA, which is chemically similar to Molly but offers more of an energizing/hallucinogenic effect and less of the touchy-feely tactile sensitivity that ecstasy is known for and loved. Capsules packed with powder and sold as Molly (pure MDMA) often contain bath salts, a powerful and dangerous psychoactive drug. Unless someone knows the chemist or is able to test a sample of the drug, there is no safe way of knowing what it is until after it’s ingested and the effects felt.
Ecstasy Effects on Health and Well-Being
Ecstasy, if it’s made with pure MDMA and taken in a positive atmosphere, will produce enhanced moods, tactile sensitivity, and heightened feelings of well-being. All sense of time and space is distorted, and people seem more warm and affectionate. Drugs mixed and manufactured to mimic the look and feel of ecstasy will create some of these effects in varying degrees of strength in addition to side effects like mild anxiety and increased physical activity. However, some ecstasy pills contain drugs like heroin, cocaine, and caffeine as well as substances like rat poison; side effects are more unpredictable and possibly deadly with these additives.
The effects of ecstasy begin within an hour of taking the drug, and they can last for up to six hours; people taking ecstasy during overnight parties or weekend festivals may take a second dose when the first begins to wear off. Other symptoms include dilated pupils, teeth clenching, feelings of faintness or being lightheaded, and muscle cramping.
Since the drug is usually taken in a party setting with lots of dancing and interaction, dangerous health problems may develop if care isn’t taken to rest and remain hydrated. On a side note, dehydration from dancing and alcohol use can lead to overcompensation. This can cause a condition known as hyponatremia, or water toxicity, which is often fatal.
Short-term effects include a rapid increase in body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. The increase in blood pressure may cause excessive sweating and redden the skin. Use of other drugs with ecstasy may hide some of these symptoms, leading to collapse from dehydration and heatstroke due to spikes in body temperature. In turn, this can cause damage to the kidneys and liver. The majority of hospitalizations and deaths that can be attributed to ecstasy use are often related to the extreme rise in body temperatures and dehydration.
For about a week after a binge of ecstasy use, some physical and psychological symptoms may appear. These include:
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased interest in sex
- Mild depression
- Memory and attention problems
- Sleep disturbances
It’s common for ecstasy to be used with marijuana and alcohol, which can increase the symptoms or decrease awareness of any dangerous symptoms. Alcohol speeds up dehydration to life-threatening levels. Due to the sexual nature of the drug, inhibitions are lowered. This can lead to risky sexual behavior and increase the possibility of exposure to sexually transmitted disease.
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Long-Term Effects of Ecstasy
Long-term or frequent ecstasy abuse makes one vulnerable to ecstasy addiction and dependence; it can also cause long-term health problems and mild to severe brain damage. Chronic or heavy use of ecstasy leads to symptoms like:
- Chronic confusion and memory problems
- Cravings for ecstasy
- Continued sleep disturbances
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Serotonin depletion
Ecstasy and the Brain
Drugs mainly affect the brain first, which causes chemical imbalances that begin to affect behavior and biological functioning, leading to long-term health problems. Habitual use also leads to brain dysfunction because normal processing and information pathways are disrupted.
Unlike many drugs that attach to one specific portion of the brain, ecstasy hits it three ways:
- Dopamine production: This is a chemical released in the reward/pleasure center of the brain. Over-stimulation leads to increased activity and energy, and it leads to repetitive behavior to gain the pleasurable effects of ecstasy.
- Norepinephrine production: Overproduction of norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure, and it’s especially dangerous for people with heart and cardiovascular problems.
- Serotonin release: When this chemical is released, it leads to feelings of well-being, warmth, and closeness. Over-stimulation of the portion of the brain that releases serotonin adversely affects the ability to regulate emotions, sleep, appetite, and sexual function. Chronic ecstasy use can also deplete the brain’s store of serotonin and the ability to create the appropriate amounts.
Is Ecstasy Addictive?
Any use of drugs outside of prescribed medications that are taken under a doctor’s supervision is drug abuse. The pleasurable ecstasy effects are what can make the drug habit-forming. However, rapid tolerance for the drug means higher and more frequent dosages are necessary to get the same feeling if ecstasy is taken on a regular basis. When cravings for the drug are present or there’s continued use despite any negative consequences, treatment may be necessary to break the cycle of addiction and address underlying issues.