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What is “Ecstasy” (MDMA) and What Are the Risks?

September 6, 2006

A newsletter reader wanted to know what “ecstasy” was and what the real risks were of using this substance.  The chemical name of the drug known as “ecstasy” is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).  This drug has properties similar to methamphetamine, which is a long-acting stimulant, and mescaline, a hallucinogenic drug that alters perceptions (e.g., visual “trails”).  Users of MDMA report feeling stimulated, euphoric, more empathic, warmer, and especially gratified by movement and touch.  However, these effects come at a serious cost.  Many people have reported experiencing severe depression and memory problems following continued MDMA use.  Scientists found that MDMA-induced depression could last for long periods and may even be permanent in some cases.  Researchers who gave MDMA to primates observed depleted levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter related to mood and memory) seven years later.  Other research has shown that MDMA specifically damages parts of nerve cells called serotonergic axons.  Because administration to humans in research laboratories is unethical, it is unclear how extensive the effects are for people.  All persons should be wary of the serious negative consequences of MDMA, and those who may be susceptible to depression should be especially concerned.

Known Negative Effects of Using Ecstasy (MDMA)

Short-Term (Mild)

  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms (jaw clenching)

Short-Term (Serious)

  • Hyperthermia (over-heating)
  • Cardiac arrhythmia (heart attack)
  • Death


  • Depression
  • Sleep disruption
  • Memory deficits
  • Irritability

For more info about MDMA, Click here:  NIDA

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