Science Interviews


Thu, 11th Aug 2016

The effects of ecstasy

Khalil Thirlaway, The University of Nottingham

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Drugs: Time for a Change?

In the next in our series on drugs 101 Khalil Thirlaway explores ecstasy...Mystery Pills

Khalil - Since ecstasyís actual name is a bit of mouthful (methylenedioxyamphetamine), this drug goes by many street names like E, MDMA, Adam, Mandy, X, or Molly. Ecstasy was first created just before the First World War as a base compound for other drugs. After being tested in the US army, and even used as a therapeutic drug, ecstasy slowly rose to fame as one of the most popular party drugs of the 1980s.

When a partygoer swallows the drug itís rapidly absorbed in the gut and then converted to its active form in the liver. It then travels to the heart and is eventually pumped all the way to your brain. Upon reaching the central nervous system it triggers a load of electrochemical firing and powers up some key chemicals, among them dopamine and serotonin. This change creates intense happiness, increases sociability and empathy, and an inability to sleep.

These feelings generally last around three to five hours as your brain naturally reabsorbs the serotonin and breaks it down. But because ecstasy releases so much serotonin, your bodyís response goes into overdrive, meaning that when the drug has worn off, thereís less serotonin available to bind to the receptors and maintain a normal level of happiness.

These low levels of serotonin bring on a short-lived period of depression for days after use - often called a comedown, but depression is not the only side effect. Ecstasy can lead to other unpleasant sensations like irritability and tiredness, along with physical traits like nausea, jaw clenching, blurred vision, muscle cramping, and even a rise in body temperature.

People who overdose on the drug may lose consciousness, and have seizures, hallucinations, even organ failure. But itís at itís most dangerous when itís cut with other cheaper substances like bleach somewhere along the production line, which can be fatal.

Connie - Khalil mentioned some side effects there, but whatís common in a lot of these drugs is that we really donít know what they do long term, especially as itís so hard to do clinical trials. So even if a drug doesnít seem that dangerous in the short term, it could still affect you further down the line. 



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