MDMA, also referred to as “Molly” or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, is a powerful synthetic drug that is popularly used by young people at raves, nightclubs, large music festivals and dance parties. MDMA abuse involves ingesting, snorting or swallowing crystalline white powder or capsules.

MDMA Abuse

Ecstasy and “Molly” are two kinds of the same drug, both of which contain MDMA. Ecstasy is usually sold in a tablet or pill form that is pressed with different logos and designs, while “Molly” is thought to be the “pure” form of the drug and is typically sold as capsules containing a white crystalline powder.

MDMA can be dangerous when it is replaced – and often is – by a cheaper drug substitute such as “bath salts.” Ecstasy, the tablet form of the drug, is often combined with amphetamines, methamphetamine, heroin, ketamine and other drugs, which can have other harmful effects. People also commonly mix MDMA with marijuana, alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, which can also be dangerous.

How Does MDMA Work In The Brain?

MDMA is a popular drug of abuse by young people who attend raves, music festivals and other large dance parties due to its effects that produce a person’s elevated mood, energy, pleasure and enhanced social experiences.

The activity of three brain chemicals – dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine – is increased by MDMA and responsible for producing the drug’s effects, reported the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). According to the NIDA:

  • MDMA produces a surge in dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasure and reward, which is responsible for increased energy and euphoric effects.
  • The emotional closeness, empathy and enhanced social connections that people experience while taking MDMA is primarily due to the drug’s activity of serotonin, a brain chemical associated with sleep, appetite, sexual arousal and mood.
  • Norepinephrine, a brain chemical involved in the physiological response to stress, effects cardiovascular activity, resulting in increased blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and alertness.

Short-term Effects

The effects of MDMA include elevations in users’ mood, changes in awareness of their senses and time, increased energy, pleasure and enhanced feelings of social connection, which cause users to feel more empathetic and closer to others around them.

MDMA takes approximately 15 minutes to an hour to start taking effect, depending on the method of administration (e.g., snorting or ingesting). The effects can last up to six hours. Low doses of MDMA can lead to pleasant and euphoric effects, distortions in a person’s senses and an enhanced sense of well-being.

Other short-term effects of MDMA abuse can be dangerous, including:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Blurred vision
  • Teeth grinding and involuntary jaw clenching
  • Chills and/or sweating
  • Nausea or faintness
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia

Heat-related illness due to MDMA is especially common in users who do not drink enough or drink too much water. People may develop hyperthermia (heat-related illness), or hyponatremia (drinking too much water). Hyponatremia can be problematic for MDMA users, as it can dilute the amount of sodium that is in the body.

Health Consequences and Long-term Effects

MDMA can also lead to physical and psychological problems when taken for several days in a row or when taken repeatedly over longer periods of time. It can affect body temperature regulation, and at higher doses of the drug, cardiovascular, kidney or liver damage and even failure, can occur.

MDMA can also deplete serotonin, resulting in lasting changes in a person’s behavior and mood. Memory problems, mood changes and cognitive difficulties are particularly common in the days and weeks following MDMA use.

Serious consequences of long-term MDMA abuse include neuronal damage, brain lesions and hemorrhages, convulsions, and organ damage or failure. Problems with thought processes, memory and information processing are also common in long-term MDMA users.

People who take MDMA can experience withdrawal symptoms following use. Some MDMA withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems (e.g., insomnia)
  • Irritability
  • Impulsivity
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety and/or depressive symptoms
  • Psychosis
  • Attention and memory problems
  • Decreased interest/pleasure from sex
  • Risky sexual behaviors, which can increase the risk of contracting a sexually-transmitted disease or infection
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MDMA Overdose

MDMA overdose is possible, especially in people who take large doses of the drug. MDMA overdose can lead to:

  • Heat stroke
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death

MDMA Addiction

MDMA has a high potential for abuse, and addiction is possible. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association or APA) classifies MDMA addiction as “Other Hallucinogen Disorder” along with other drugs like mescaline, peyote and lysergic acid diethylamide (LDS).

MDMA Treatment

Sovereign Health of Arizona’s MDMA detox program for women includes an array of evidence-based, complementary and experiential treatments. During the admissions process for MDMA treatment, women are thoroughly assessed to diagnose and create an individualized treatment plan. For more information about Sovereign Health of Arizona’s MDMA addiction treatment program, contact our 24/7 helpline.

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