Ecstasy (also known as MDMA or Molly) is a stimulant medication often used in party situations. It’s illegal and usually made in clandestine labs, so making sweeping statements about what the drug is and how it works isn’t easy. But experts suggest that it can be addictive.
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.
Breaking Down the Addictive Nature of Ecstasy
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.
Ecstasy works by prompting cells to release serotonin, which is responsible for regulating core functions, such as the following:
- Sexual activity
- Pain sensitivity
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.
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, most of the MDMA you buy from dealers is far from pure. And the things they add could make your next dose more dangerous and addictive.
In samples of drugs sold as Molly in 2023, less than 18 percent contained only MDMA. In fact, about 3 percent contained nothing at all. Most samples were contaminated with other substances, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and PCP.
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, methamphetamine is considered 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, but 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.