Also known as: Adam, Beans, Clarity, E, Ecstasy, Hug, Love drug, Lover’s speed, Molly, X, and XTC
What is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is most commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly. It is a laboratory-made drug that produces a “high” similar to the stimulants called amphetamines. It also produces psychedelic effects, similar to the hallucinogens mescaline and LSD. MDMA first became popular in the nightclub scene, at “raves” (all-night dance parties), and music festivals or concerts. It is now used by a broader range of people. The drug’s effects generally last from 3 to 6 hours.
MDMA is a Schedule I substance, which means that the U.S. Government has determined that it has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Researchers, however, continue to investigate the possible medical benefits, for example, with patients that have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal cancer patients with anxiety. However, patients in those studies are under strict medical supervision.
How MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) is Used
Most people who use MDMA take it in a pill, tablet, or capsule. The pills can be different colors and sometimes have cartoon-like images on them. Some people take more than one pill at a time, called “bumping.” The popular term “Molly” (slang for molecular) refers to the pure crystalline powder form of MDMA, usually sold in capsules. But this is mostly a marketing gimmick—testing on “Molly” seized by police shows a variety of other ingredients.
In fact, researchers and law enforcement have found that much of the Ecstasy sold today contains other harmful and possibly deadly drugs. In some recent cases, drugs sold as MDMA actually contain no MDMA at all. Frequently, MDMA is mixed with or replaced by synthetic cathinones, the chemicals in “bath salts”. Some MDMA pills, tablets, and capsules have also been found to contain caffeine, dextromethorphan (found in some cough syrups), amphetamines, PCP, or cocaine.
Once an MDMA pill or capsule is swallowed, it takes about 15 minutes for the drug to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. MDMA produces its effects by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Let’s take a look at the importance of these chemicals:
- Serotonin—plays a role in controlling our mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and feelings of pain. The extra serotonin that is released by MDMA likely causes mood-lifting effects in users. People who use MDMA might feel very alert, or “hyper,” at first. Some experience altered sense of time and other changes in perception, such as a more intense sense of touch. Serotonin also triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which play a role in feelings of love, sexual arousal, and trust. This may be why users report feeling a heightened sense of emotional closeness and empathy.
- Dopamine—helps to control movement, motivation, emotions, and sensations like pleasure. The extra dopamine is linked to continued cravings for the drug.
- Norepinephrine—increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people who have problems with their heart and blood circulation.
Because MDMA increases the activity of these chemicals, some users experience negative effects. They may become anxious and agitated, become sweaty, have chills, or feel faint or dizzy.
Even those who don’t feel negative effects during use can experience bad after-effects. Even weeks later, people can experience confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and anxiety, because the surge of serotonin caused by MDMA reduces the brain’s supply of this important chemical.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs. And, check out how the brain responds to natural rewards and to drugs.
1. What is Molly?
2. What does Molly do?
3. Who is using Molly?
4. What does Molly look like?
5. What makes Molly so dangerous?
6. Where do the chemicals come from?
7. How widespread is the problem?
8. What’s being done about it? Why can’t the government just make it illegal?
9. How can I tell if someone is using or has used Molly?
What happens to your body when you use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
The changes that take place in the brain with MDMA use affect the user in several ways. These include:
- increases in heart rate and blood pressure
- muscle tension
- teeth clenching
- lowered inhibition (doing things and making decisions that your normally wouldn’t)
- nausea (feeling sick) and possible vomiting
- blurred vision
- dizziness and faintness
- chills or sweating
- higher body temperature (can lead to serious heart, liver, or kidney problems)
- increased risk for unsafe sex
Because MDMA does not always break down in the body, it can interfere with its own metabolism. This can cause harmful levels of the drug to build up in the body if it is taken repeatedly within short periods of time. High levels of the drug in the bloodstream can increase the risk for seizures and affect the heart’s ability to beat normally.
Mixing MDMA with alcohol can decrease some of alcohol’s effects.
Researchers are not sure if MDMA causes long-term brain changes or if such effects are reversible when someone stops using the drug. However, studies have shown that some heavy MDMA users experience problems that are long lasting, including confusion, depression, and problems with memory and attention.
Can you overdose or die if you use MDMA use (Ecstasy or Molly)?
Is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) addictive?
How many teens use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
What should I do if someone I know needs help?
Where can I get more information?
- Slang Terms and Code Words: A Reference for Law Enforcement Personnel (PDF, 1MB) [Drug Enforcement Agency]
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