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Though seen as a party drug, the reality of an Ecstasy addiction is anything but a party. It is a dangerous drug that has long-lasting negative side effects.
What is Ecstasy?
Not only is Ecstasy one of the most dangerous drugs threatening young people today, it’s also one of the easiest illegal drugs to obtain. Distributed almost anywhere, Ecstasy (or MDMA) has become very popular at social events like raves, hip hop parties, concerts, and other events frequented by both adults and youth. While not all “event” attendees use Ecstasy, the drug often makes the circuit of these parties and can set up circumstances that are dangerous for everyone.
Originally developed as an appetite suppressant in 1914, MDMA started to become available on the street In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It wasn’t until 1985 that Ecstasy was made illegal. It is classified as a “Schedule 1” controlled substance along with other narcotics like heroin, cocaine, and LSD. Penalties for possession, delivery, and manufacturing of the drug can include fines as high as $100,000 and up to 99 years or life in prison, depending on the amount seized.
One reason Ecstasy can be especially dangerous is the lack of content control. Ingredients are hard to get and manufacturers of the drug often use substitutes, mixing other harmful additives with the already dangerous mix. This practice is so common that “drug test kits” are often sold with the drug so users can test for purity. Because of the uncertainties about the drug sources, pharmacological agents, chemicals used to manufacture them, and possible contaminants, it is difficult to measure the toxicity, consequences and symptoms that might be expected.
How Does It Affect You?
Ecstasy is similar in nature to other amphetamines and hallucinogens. It speeds up the nervous system and acts as a mood enhancer. Also referred to as “the love drug”, Ecstasy often makes the user feel good, happy and relaxed – at least at first. Contrary to rumors, Ecstasy is not an aphrodisiac and can actually inhibit sexual performance.
The taking of any drug affects people differently. Depending on the person’s size, weight, health, dosage and other drugs being used, the reaction can be mild or very severe. Anyone suffering from hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, mental illness or panic should avoid taking Ecstasy.
Ecstasy and the Brain
The brain communicates from neuron to neuron through a network of axons and dendrites. Axons contain chemicals called neurotransmitters that send messages across cells to communicate information. Axons send chemicals through axon terminals into the small gap between cells called the synapse, to a cell’s receiving entity called dendrites. Along every dendrite are neurotransmitter-specific receptors that fit only a certain type of neurotransmitter. After receiving the signal, the cell then decides whether or not to pass on the signal to the other cells. The process of neurotransmitter release is then continued throughout the brain.
Drug use changes the normal state of the neurotransmitter release in the brain. Use of ecstasy, or MDMA increases the release of serotonin, the chemical involved in mood, sleep, and appetite regulation. The serotonin attaches itself in mass amounts to the receptors in the brain, causing the euphoric feeling ecstasy produces. After it has done its job, the serotonin then detaches, and returns to the axon that it came from. Inside those axons are serotonin reuptake transporters that take the serotonin and break it down. As the elated effects of MDMA begin to wear off, many people try to take more ecstasy to regain that feeling, but since there is no more or very little serotonin left in the brain, as serotonin does not regenerate quickly, it does not work. In many cases, the level of serotonin in the brain after using a drug is even less than it was prior to the drug use, creating depression, irritability and exhaustion.
The excessive amount of serotonin released in the brain due to drugs such as MDMA can cause the serotonin receptors to retreat into the dendrite. Although doctors are not sure why this happens, they theorize that it is done in an attempts to keep the brain in a “normal” state, or to protect the receptors from damage due to overstimulation. The receptor retreat decreases the amount of “normal” serotonin that can be received even when the drug is not being used. This can and often does lead to depression in ecstasy users.
Street Ecstasy is very dangerous, because many manufacturers do not sell “pure” MDMA. The drug can contain LSD, heroin, rat poison, caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, tranquilisers, etc.
Common Side Effects
An Ecstasy high can last from 6 to 24 hours but usually averages 3 to 4 hours. Some reactions have been reported to persist up to 14 days after use. The following side effects start within 20 minutes of taking Ecstasy and can last for 4 – 6 hours or longer:
Feelings of well-being (happiness, love, connection, etc.)
Increased body temperature
Increased blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Loss of appetite
Short Term Effects
Short-term effects include psychological difficulties (confusion, depression, sleep problems, craving, severe anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and paranoia). Physical problems may include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, fever, chills or sweating. Contrary to popular belief, taking higher doses of MDMA will not increase the good feelings. In fact, higher dosages can cause convulsions, irrational behavior, and hallucinations. These effects occur during use and can continue even weeks after use.
Long Term Effects
Recent findings connect use of Ecstasy to memory loss. Use of Ecstasy depletes serotonin, a very important chemical in the brain which regulates mood, sleeping and eating habits, as well as thinking and behavior processes, sexual function, and sensitivity to pain.
Taking too much Ecstasy can result in:
Extremely high body temperatures
High blood pressure
Ecstasy-related deaths often result from excessive overheating (hyperthermia), or from drinking too much at one time (hyponatremia). Hyponatremia is a condition where excess fluid intake swells the brain resulting in coma. A third cause of death is stimulation. Over stimulation of the nervous system can result in heart attack or brain hemorrhage.
Warning Signs of Overdose
Feeling hot or unwell
Becoming confused, not able to talk properly
Racing heart or pulse when resting
Fainting or collapsing
Loss of control over body movements
Herbal Ecstasy is another form of MDMA that is composed of ephedrine (ma huang) or pseudoephedrine and caffeine from the kola nut. Also sold in tablet form, Herbal Ecstasy can cause permanent brain damage and death. Though not currently classified as a controlled substance, Herbal Ecstasy shares many of the same qualities and effects as MDMA. Also known as Cloud 9, Herbal Bliss, Ritual Spirit, Herbal X, GWM, Rave Energy, Ultimate Xphoria and X.
Ecstasy can be detected up to four days after use in the urine.
Ecstasy and Anti-Depressants
People currently taking an MAOI should not use Ecstasy. MAOIs are most commonly found in prescription anti-depressants Nardil (phenelzine), Parnete (tranylcypromine), Marplan (isocarboxazid), Eldepryl (I-deprenyl), and Aurorex or Manerix (moclobermide). The same is true of the protease inhibitor Ritonavir.
Ecstasy and Pregnancy
In a study published in the May 1, 2001 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, results showed that exposure (of rats) to Ecstasy caused memory and learning deficiencies to the unborn rat. As with all other drugs (legal or not), they should never be taken during pregnancy unless specifically prescribed by a medical professional.
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