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05 May What Does Ecstasy Do to the Brain?

Ecstasy, also known as E, MDMA, or Molly, is a synthetic drug that produces both amphetamine-like stimulant effects and psychedelic effects, including increased energy, euphoria, distortions in sensory and time perception, and increased warmth towards others. It is known as a “club drug” because of its popularity at night clubs, raves, dance parties, festivals, and concerts and is generally taken in pill or capsule form. Read on to learn about how ecstasy affects the brain, both in the short term and the long term.

The Chemistry of Ecstasy

Once swallowed, it takes about 15 minutes for ecstasy to enter the bloodstream and make it to the brain. Ecstasy works by increasing the activity of three different neurotransmitters in the body—serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. More primarily affected is serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that sends signals throughout the body to regulate several bodily processes, including sleep, mood, memory, emotion, aggression, appetite, and perception. When ecstasy enters the body, it causes the release serotonin and then blocks the reuptake of serotonin, leading to a buildup of serotonin in the brain.

Short-Term Effects

It is this phenomenon at the neurotransmitter level that causes feelings of euphoria, hyperactivity, and distorted perception such as a heightened sense of touch or a lost sense of time. Ecstasy’s ability to trigger the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin also means that users might experience heightened sexual arousal or feelings of love towards others.

As for aftereffects, the excess amounts of serotonin released at one time cause a major depletion of serotonin in the brain, which is the major underlying cause for the negative aftereffects that users experience even days after the use of ecstasy. These negative effects include confusion, depression, sleep problems, and anxiety.

Long-Term Effects

Research on the long-term effects is still ongoing. Ecstasy can damage serotonin-containing nerve cells, and many scientists believe that this damage could be irreversible. Moreover, heavy users of ecstasy have been shown to experience confusion, depression, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating after a prolonged period of use. Ecstasy does also seem to lead to dependence in some, with some users experiencing withdrawal symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and trouble concentrating after ceasing ecstasy use. Users can also build a tolerance to the drug, requiring more and more of it to achieve the same highs as before.

Dr. Craig Georgianna has more than twenty years’ experience working with individuals, couples, and families in a myriad of settings. He specializes in treating substance use, abuse and dependence, trauma, and individuals with sexual and multiple addictions. Dr. Georgianna’s experience includes over a decade of directorial experience with chemical dependency, treatment, and recovery programs throughout the Southern California area.
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