Researchers say animals will self-administer MDMA in lab tests, which is often indicative of an addictive substance. If they’re exposed to something that isn’t addictive, they rarely take more voluntarily.
But making sweeping statements about ecstasy is difficult. Much of the MDMA seized by officials contains very addictive substances, including these:
If you take Molly that is laced with one of these ingredients, it might be much more harmful (and addictive) than a pure dose. This increases the risk greatly.
Ecstasy & the Brain
Ecstasy increases the activity of at least three neurotransmitters, and all of them could play a role in the addictiveness of the drug.
Brain cells release dopamine naturally when we’re engaged in something pleasurable or beneficial. The release ensures that we remember the activity, and it can prompt us to repeat it.
High doses of dopamine produced by drugs can reinforce the reward each dose causes. The chemical signal is so strong that it’s hard to ignore, and it can strongly reinforce the connection between taking drugs and feeling good because of them.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for encouraging us to repeat pleasurable activities, like taking drugs.
This chemical is responsible for feelings of arousal, alertness, learning, and memory. High doses of this neurotransmitter can make us feel very alert or awake, despite how we felt moments before we took drugs.
Researchers say norepinephrine is responsible for drug-seeking behaviors. High doses seem to encourage the brain to link taking drugs with feeling good, and it’s very hard for someone to break that connection naturally.
Ecstasy works by prompting cells to release serotonin, which is responsible for regulating core functions, such as the following:
Chronic MDMA use damages this system, forcing people to experience depression, insomnia, and pain. This drug dependence can prompt them to keep using ecstasy even when they don’t want to.
Breaking Down the Addictive Nature of Ecstasy
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder that’s characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued use despite the consequences. People with an ecstasy addiction might want to quit, as they know it’s harming their health and relationships, but they might be unable to do so.
Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. Most people who develop an unhealthy relationship with drugs progress through a series of predictable and understandable steps. Each one represents a moment when you can stop and ask for help.
Brain cells respond dramatically to the first dose of ecstasy you take. Huge amounts of neurotransmitters are released, flooding you with relaxation and calm. Your cells aren’t accustomed to this flood, and they adjust to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
You must take more ecstasy to get the same result. Someone with an ecstasy habit is constantly battling the body’s tolerance for the drug. They might need increasingly higher doses to get the same effect.
Researchers say ecstasy tolerance develops quickly. Some people take doses repeatedly in one sitting, hoping to get a high that once came with just one hit.
With continued use and increased tolerance, your brain cells adjust so dramatically that they can’t function in the same way without ecstasy. You’ve developed a drug dependence.
What Is Addiction?
Tolerance and dependence are physical responses to ecstasy use. Addiction is a psychological condition that develops due to persistent use and abuse of drugs.
Someone who is addicted to ecstasy is emotionally and psychologically hooked on the way the drug makes them feel. You might keep using the drug despite clear knowledge that it’s harming your future. And you might believe the drug makes you a better person.
Your addiction can be reinforced by tolerance and dependence. When your brain and body tell you quitting is impossible, you may believe them. If you try to stop use, your body calls out for more, and you take more in an effort to feel normal. This deepens the cycle of abuse.
The Role of Cutting Agents
While research suggests that pure ecstasy can cause changes leading to addiction, the MDMA you buy from dealers may not be pure. And the things they add could make your next dose more dangerous and addictive.
The organization Erowid asks users to submit test samples of the drugs they buy on the street. In samples of drugs sold as Molly in 2023, just 27.2% percent contained only MDMA. In fact, about 3% contained no MDMA at all. Some samples were contaminated with other stimulants, with ecstasy-like chemicals, or with psychedelic drugs.
When dealers add other stimulants to ecstasy, you may not notice the difference. You’ll still feel energetic, connected to other people, and ready to party the night away. Similar substances are very hard for users to detect, even when they’re very experienced with drugs.
But these additives have known addictive qualities. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse considers methamphetamine highly addictive. As soon as the drug wears off, severe cravings begin. Some people go on meth binges, taking multiple doses over a short period and developing dependence in short order. If ecstasy is laced with methamphetamine, this can occur quickly.
The tainted dose of MDMA you take could be spiked with these additives, ensuring your dealer has a repeat customer. There’s no way to know what’s inside the drug you take or how it will affect you.
What Does Addiction Look Like?
People with an ecstasy addiction present very recognizable symptoms almost anyone could spot.
Addiction typically causes the following problems:
Frequent intoxication: The person might always seem too anxious, busy, or restless. They may alternate these periods of change with deep depression or sedation. When on ecstasy, they may seem particularly empathetic or fascinated by colors or music.
Preoccupation: The person may spend a lot of time every day getting or using ecstasy. They may stop going to work or school to make time for drug use.
Money troubles: Ecstasy isn’t very expensive. In Los Angeles, an ecstasy pill costs $5. It’s a bargain compared to the $10 users pay for a 30 mg Adderall pill. However, people with addictions often take a lot of the drug regularly. They may let other financial obligations slide to buy drugs.
Frequent attempts to quit: The person may promise to limit or stop ecstasy use only to relapse due to cravings or dependence.
Health problems: People addicted to stimulants like ecstasy often lose a lot of weight in a short period. They may lose muscle tone and seem very small and weak.
Law enforcement trouble: Ecstasy isn’t legal, and people can get arrested for possessing or using the drug. People may also do strange things while high and face legal consequences.
The best way to stay safe is to stop using MDMA in any form. If you struggle to quit or stay sober, talk to your doctor about treatment programs that might help.
Frequently Asked Questions
These are the questions we often hear about the addictiveness of ecstasy:
No one is sure. To find out, researchers would need to give people regular doses of this illegal drug and pinpoint the dose that caused addictive symptoms. It’s unlikely that national organizations would approve of a study like this.
People with an ecstasy addiction keep using the drug despite the consequences. They may attempt to quit and find it’s impossible to do so. They may also have physical symptoms, such as weight loss and insomnia.
Ecstasy pills are made in clandestine laboratories, and they’re not subject to government quality-control checks. It’s impossible to know the strength or purity of the street drugs you buy without testing them first. It’s never safe to take drugs like this.
https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasymolly MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) Drug Facts. (June 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Ecstasy/MDMA. (April 2020). U.S. Department of Justice.
Test Result Statistics: Samples Sold as Ecstasy Molly, MDMA. DrugsData.org.
Methamphetamine Drug Facts. (May 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
What Is Drug Addiction? (July 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
What Are MDMAs Effects on the Brain? (September 2017). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Drugs and the Brain. (July 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Norepinephrine and Stimulant Addiction. (April 2009). Addiction Biology.