The effects of ecstasy

11 August 2016

Interview with

Khalil Thirlaway, The University of Nottingham

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

Khalil - Since ecstasy's 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 it's 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 body's response goes into overdrive, meaning that when the drug has worn off, there's 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 it's at it's most dangerous when it's cut with other cheaper substances like bleach somewhere along the production line, which can be fatal.

Connie - Khalil mentioned some side effects there, but what's common in a lot of these drugs is that we really don't know what they do long term, especially as it's so hard to do clinical trials. So even if a drug doesn't seem that dangerous in the short term, it could still affect you further down the line. 

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