Whether it’s being called ecstasy, molly, or MDMA, this powerful stimulant has had a common place in the club and rave scene for years. But what exactly is this drug that so many kids and young adults are carelessly putting into their bodies? Why do we hear of club-going kids dropping dead from heat exhaustion after literally dancing themselves to death? Ecstasy needs further examination as its use is still silently growing. It regrettably doesn’t come up in the news as often nowadays due to the chronic abuse of what are considered more dangerous drugs, like heroin and methamphetamine. But what is it exactly? Like any drug or tool, the compound is benign. It is only through its use that it either becomes dangerous or a substance of value. Some people use it in the wrong place and time and drop dead. Psychiatrists are now finding use for it as a treatment for extreme cases of PTSD though. So has it been wrongfully vilified by the media circus? The controversy surrounding this potentially treacherous chemical absolutely warrants further research. First, we need to know exactly what it is.
What is Ecstasy or Molly?
Ecstasy and molly are two of the common names for the drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Molly is classified as a hallucinogen and stimulant, and produces powerful euphoric effects of time distortion, visual hallucinations, increased enhancement and enjoyment from sensory experiences. It has been described as an entactogen, which means that it can increase self-awareness and empathy. Psychiatrists with the FDA are now learning what many club kids have known for a long time–that molly provides the user with the ability to be emotionally open and available in a way that he or she generally is not. Clubbers and ravers have long been using this unique quality of ecstasy to get close to one another physically. The amphetamine-like quality of the drug allows the user to dance all night, and the empathy-generating part of it allows ravers to comfortably give strangers friendly back rubs and the like. Doctors are now seeing that the same trait of ecstasy that allows the user to feel so emotionally close to strangers also makes it a useful tool in the treatment of PTSD in cases that are unresponsive to more traditional approaches. Unfortunately, this could have the unintended side-effect of implying that use of MDMA in an uncontrolled environment is safe, which is the farthest thing from the truth. The consequences of using the molly recklessly can be devastating.
How Ecstasy and Molly are Used
While the active ingredient, MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetmine) is present in both ecstasy and molly, and terms will be used interchangeably throughout this article, there are some differences between the two. Ecstasy generally comes in a pill form with various prints, or brands, stamped on it. The pill will have various fillers that can contain any amount of unknown adulterants. It is swallowed and the effects generally begin within an hour of ingestion. Molly, while the same drug, has been more popular in recent years. It is a powder, generally whitish in color, which may or may not come in a capsule. The user will snort the drug, and effects begin within minutes.
Effects and Side-Effects of MDMA (Molly) Abuse
If the legalization of MDMA for the treatment of PTSD come to fruition, it is possible that we will see even more abuse of ecstasy on the streets. Diversion of a drug from a distributor is no uncommon story any longer. So it is wise to be aware of what exactly molly can do to the person using it. If someone is high on MDMA, they are likely to show signs of:
- Extreme mood lift
- Extreme increase in body temperature
- Increased willingness to communicate
- Inappropriate feelings of comfort and increased closeness to others
- Analgesia, anti-nociception
- Increased energy and stimulation
- Decreased appetite
- Visual distortions
- Rapid, involuntary eye jiggling (nystagmus)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory scrambling
- Unintended emotional bonding
- Jaw clenching, teeth grinding, tongue chewing
- Muscle tension
- Sexual dysfunction
The primary effects of MDMA generally last about 4 to 6 hours, and the user can experience negative consequences of the drug after just one use. This is known as the crash and will happen later in the week that the person used the drug. The person will show signs of:
- Increased irritability
- Increased depression
- Low energy
- Lack of interest in activities that he or she generally enjoys
- Appetite suppression
These negative effects can last anywhere from a few days up to a week.
Deaths and Hospitalizations from MDMA abuse
As a powerful stimulant, ecstasy greatly increases the body temperature of the user. This is common among all stimulants, and is one of the more common ways they can kill. This, combined with the fact that molly is generally used in an environment such as a rave or club where the temperature is already high, makes using the drug to party a serious risk. Of course, when someone’s body temperature is high, he or she will feel dehydrated no matter how much water is drank. This can also lead to a serious condition when under the influence of ecstasy, called hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is an extremely low sodium level in the blood, which causes an irregular heartbeat due to the misfiring of the neurons. This is colloquially known as “water intoxication” and is commonly fatal. These common risks don’t even account for the fact that ecstasy bought on the street is notoriously impure. Since high-grade MDMA is difficult to procure, many derivatives of the drug are made in clandestine labs that are more concerned with profits than safety. MDMA is substituted for a compound such as PMA, which can mimic the effects of ecstasy, but generally has a much higher fatality risk. As such, you see stories of victims dying from taking a drug that they thought was ecstasy. It is also common for ecstasy pills or powder to be cut (diluted) with other, cheaper, yet more dangerous, drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
Long-Term Effects of Ecstasy Abuse
Ecstasy works primarily by generating a huge rush of the neurotransmitter serotonin, what you may recognize as the brain’s “happy drug.” As the brain grows to rely on MDMA to produce serotonin, it slows down production when the drug is not present. According to studies done by the NIDA, long term effects of ecstasy abuse indicate that it is extremely neurotoxic. There are extreme brain chemistry changes where the brain no longer produces the amount of serotonin it did before exposure to ecstasy. It also changes the physical structures of the brain where serotonin transporters are reduced and serotonin terminals begin to degenerate. These studies show that the effects of using ecstasy even once can last up to an astounding seven years. Someone who has been abusing MDMA for long periods of time will also suffer from various other serious conditions such as:
- An inability to feel happiness without ecstasy
- Craving for the drug
- Weight loss
- Tooth damage from excessive grinding of the teeth
- Malnutrition from an improper diet
- Feelings of detachment from reality
- Suicidal ideation
- Severe depression
- Loss of interest in sex (decreased libido)
Treatment for Ecstasy (Molly) Addiction
After feeling the effects of abusing ecstasy or molly for a long time, many will want to seek recovery. Because, make no bones about it, this drug is rough on the body. Long-term abuse of the drug absolutely can kill. Many treatment modalities for recovering from ecstasy abuse are similar to treatments for the abuse of other drugs. Ecstasy is not physically dependent. That is, the body itself will not become sick upon withdrawal of the drug. This means that a medical detox will most likely not be necessary, unless the drug that the patient has been abusing was cut with other adulterants such as heroin. Traditional ecstasy inpatient rehabilitation programs are very effective in the treatment of an addiction, just as they are for many common psychoactive substances. After the thirty day stay in an inpatient facility, continued treatment is always advised. This can include talk therapy, twelve-step meetings, or even sober living. Antidepressants to aid in the regeneration of the brain’s serotonin production are also effective when used in combination with therapies and continuing care.
Recovery from Ecstasy Abuse
Those who have been abusing ecstasy for long periods of time and have developed substance abuse problems with the drug no doubt have a long road of recovery ahead of them. What with the physical problems that the drug can cause in the body as well as the mental issues that will undoubtedly develop with persistent use, the mountain of recovery can seem particularly insurmountable for this particular drug. But as many have said, recovery only becomes impossible once you’re dead. The road to recovery from ecstasy begins with one simple step. If the addict will talk to a friend or an understanding family member, someone who cares, and let them know what he or she is suffering through, recovery will then become possible. The Great Wall of China was built by laying that first stone. New advances in the science of neuroplasticity show that the brain can recover from conditions it is subjected to that were once considered unendurable by many prominent physicians. Every day, miracles happen in the world of recovery. People lay down the needle or the pipe, get help, and manage to turn their lives around. They learn to live without the substance that they once thought their very life depended upon. Don’t feel that the problem you are dealing with is not as serious as other substance abuse issues just because the FDA is considering using ecstasy to treat severe psychiatric conditions. Though every drug can have a valid use, any drug can become extremely dangerous and fatal if it is being used in a reckless way. Untold numbers of addicts die every year, but not before their drug of choice completely robs them of all quality of life. Remember, it’s never too late to begin recovering. Once you do, the possibilities that lay ahead of you are endless, and the promises life can grant you are bountiful.