The drug “ecstasy” is the common name used for MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine). MDMA/Ecstasy is a synthetic stimulant that has hallucinogen properties. Because many people use MDMA at dance parties, clubs, and raves, it is classified as a “club drug.” At various points in its history, therapists have used MDMA as an adjunct to psychotherapy.2
MDMA users often site feelings of being in an extremely good mood, having lots of energy and everything about them feels especially pleasurable. This effect is caused by MDMA binding to serotonin transporters in the brain, which is in part responsible for regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain.3 Therefore, MDMA causes a huge release of serotonin in the brain, and heightens the sensations in some these areas.
Street names for ecstasy include E, XTC, X, Adam, hug, beans, clarity, lover’s speed, and love drug.4 Many of the common street names related to ecstasy are because of the affects that it has on the user.
Ecstasy comes in a pill, tablet, capsule, or powder form. Ecstasy pills often have cartoon symbols or images on them. It can also be snorted. Ecstasy is rarely smoked or intravenously injected.
German chemists first developed Methylenedioxymethamphetamine in the early 1900s. However, it was a synthetic, chemical compound that was not developed or used as a hallucinogenic substance. In the 1960s, chemist Alexander Shulgin modified the drug to what is known as MDMA, or ecstasy.5 It was developed for psychotherapy purposes.
In the 1980s, ecstasy became a recreational drug touted for its mind-altering and “opening” capabilities.5 It did not become illegal until 1985 when the US Drug Enforcement Administration placed Ecstasy as a Schedule 1 drug. In the late 1980s, due to the prohibition of ecstasy in the US, ecstasy was soon heavily produced in Europe and was a widely used drug in Britain in the “rave” scene, like in the US.5
MDMA’s psychological effects are one of the most attractive side effects of the drug including emotional openness, stimulation, reduction of critical and cynical thoughts, and decrease of inhibitions.6 This openness has lead therapists to use it as a way for patients to work through difficult interpersonal issues.6
The combination of the stimulant and psychedelic properties of ecstasy make it so the user feels very energetic and often exerts large amounts of energy and can become physically exhausted. The NIDA notes that this can raise the body’s temperature, causing cardiovascular failure and can also produce dehydration. Other side effects include: nausea, chills, sweating, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping and blurred vision.7
According to the drug website, Erowid, Ecstasy has a decreased effect as soon as taking it one or two days apart.6 Although the person may have an addiction tendency to continually use, “some users report noticing reduced effects for up to 2 or 3 weeks after initial use.”6
2) “MDMA Basics.” Erowid. Date downloaded: July 20, 2010.
3) “NIDA Infofacts MDMA (Ecstasy).” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Date downloaded: July 20, 2010.
4) “MDMA (Ecstasy).” NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
5) Jennings, P. Ecstasy Rising. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
6) “MDMA Basics.” Erowid. Date downloaded: July 20, 2010.
7) “NIDA’s Latest Research Report Focuses on MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Vol. 19, No. 5. Date downloaded: July 20, 2010.