Understanding MDMA: What Is It?
What Is MDMA?
MDMA is a synthetic psychostimulant drug that first became popular in the 1980s. Now, more than 18 million Americans have tried the drug at least once in their lifetime.
MDMA (also called ecstasy or Molly) is a synthetic drug sold as brightly colored pills or pure white powder pressed into capsules. Researchers used to consider MDMA a club drug, as it was once used exclusively in clubs and dance parties. But now it’s much more broadly used, including outside of party environments.
Key Facts About Ecstasy Addiction
- Pills sold as MDMA are often contaminated with powerful and dangerous drugs like cocaine, ketamine, or methamphetamine.
- Of people 12 and older in 2021, 2.2 million reported using MDMA within the last year.
- Heavy MDMA use over a two-year period is associated with decreased cognitive function.
- Ecstasy has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, making it a unique drug that’s hard to classify.
History & Statistics
MDMA is typically used by men ages 18 to 25. Most start using the drug at age 21.
In the 1980s, when Molly was new to the community, people used the drug within the club scene. The drug makes dancing with other people in bright lights more appealing. But researchers say MDMA has now moved beyond the club, and people take it in all sorts of environments.
Deaths associated with Molly have increased between 2011 and 2017. A total of 1,400 deaths were identified during this period in four countries alone.
Side Effects: How Ecstasy Affects the Brain
Whether you take pills or capsules, MDMA moves from your digestive system into your bloodstream. From there, molecules move into your brain and make changes there.
MDMA increases three chemicals inside your brain:
- Dopamine: This so-called “feel-good chemical” is responsible for the burst of happiness that sets in after your hit. That sensation may make you return to the drug repeatedly.
- Norepinephrine: This chemical is tied to organ regulation. More of it means your heart rate and blood pressure increase.
- Serotonin: This chemical increases feelings of closeness and intimacy. It also controls appetite and sleep, so it could make you feel hungry and wired.
Molly intoxication begins within about 45 minutes of taking a dose. Symptoms of intoxication can include the following:
- Enhanced sense of well-being or empathy
- Enhanced sensory perception
- High blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Loss of consciousness
People who abuse MDMA regularly deplete important chemicals within the brain. They can develop several symptoms, including the following:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Inability to concentrate
- Heart disease
Signs of Addiction: What to Look Out For
Some people are quick to tell their friends and family members that they use Molly. Others try to hide their use.
Telltale signs of MDMA use include the following:
- Secretiveness, including paranoia about people being in their personal space
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Sudden mood changes
- Unusual emotional reactions, including extreme cuddliness
- Exhaustion or depression after a night out
- New friends who also seem drugged
- Evidence of pills or wrappers
People who see these signs should speak up. MDMA is too dangerous for regular use.
Dangers of Ecstasy Abuse
Taking illicit drugs is never smart, but MDMA comes with unique risks that other drugs can’t match.
When police officers seize ecstasy or Molly, they test it for purity. Often, they find other chemicals, such as these:
You have no idea what’s inside the next pill or capsule you take. Drugs sold on the street don’t have any kind of quality control to ensure they are what dealers say they are. The next dose you take could be more harmful than anything you’ve taken before.
While it’s rare for people to overdose on MDMA, it happens. The drug can cause the following symptoms during an overdose:
- Very high body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
Since ecstasy and Molly often contain other substances, you could potentially overdose from something that is combined with MDMA, often without your knowledge.
With quick treatment, people can usually recover from an overdose. But sometimes, people just don’t get help soon enough.
Ecstasy Addiction Treatment
It’s difficult to quit drugs like MDMA without help. An effective treatment program could give you the tools you need to change your life for the better.
No medications are approved by the FDA to treat ecstasy intoxication or addiction. But some treatment teams use medications to ease common problems people experience when they try to quit the drug.
For example, your medical detox team might use antidepressants to address uncomfortable thoughts and sedatives to help you sleep. You may also benefit from meditation and balanced meals to help your mind and body heal.
In a residential treatment program, you’ll work with a talented team of professionals who help you rebuild your life and develop healthy habits.
Your program might involve cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and other forms of talk therapy. You might participate in support group meetings to learn from your peers. And you may use exercise, art therapy, or music therapy to find new ways to express yourself.
When your residential program is complete, you’ll have the tools you need to stay sober. But most people need extra help to resist the urge to relapse. Staying in touch with support group meetings and your therapists can help you work through new triggers and challenges without returning to drugs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ecstasy
We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about ecstasy and MDMA abuse.
Researchers aren’t sure how addictive ecstasy is. But studies show that animals self-administer the drug, which typically indicates a substance is addictive.
No. GHB is another drug. It’s sometimes confused for MDMA, as they’re both often used in clubs.
A dose of MDMA remains potent for several hours. But the impact of the drug can persist for much longer as brain cells recover.
These terms refer to the same drug. Sometimes, dealers use the word Molly to describe candy-colored pills and ecstasy to refer to powder pressed into capsules.
Yes, ecstasy has stimulant properties.
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: Introduction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published September 2017. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) drug facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2020. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: What is the scope of MDMA use in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published September 2017. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: What are the effects of MDMA. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published September 2017. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: Who is using MDMA? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published September 2017. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- Roxburgh A, Sam B, Kriikku P, et al. Trends in MDMA-related mortality across four countries. Addiction. 2021;116(11):3094-3103. doi:10.1111/add.15493
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: What are the effects of MDMA? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published September 2017. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: What is MDMA? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse/what-mdma
- MDMA (Ecstasy) abuse research report: Is MDMA addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published September 2017. Accessed June 20, 2023.