MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is easily one of the most popular recreational drugs found today. It is commonly known as Ecstasy, Molly, or XTC among many other names and is best known in popular culture as being the drug of choice for the all-night rave scene (raves) that began in the 1980s. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), MDMA has been tried at least once by more than 18 million people in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the profile of the typical person who uses MDMA has changed, spreading to populations outside the nightclub scene and into more mainstream communities.
MDMA is a synthetic drug, primarily made in Canada and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands. The United States also has a small number of illegal MDMA labs in operation, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
When street-purchased samples of MDMA are seized and tested by the DEA, they are often found to be laced with other drug-based components. These substances have included caffeine, dextromethorphan (an over-the-counter cough suppressant), cocaine, heroin, PCP (phencyclidine), methamphetamine, ketamine (an anesthetic), and ephedrine (a diet drug). MDMA is sold in either tablet or crystal form.
Because MDMA is made in illegal labs, there is no standardization in the appearance or names used for this drug. EcstastyData.org (an independent laboratory pill testing program of Erowid Center, maintained for the purpose of assisting drug-based harm-reduction efforts, researchers, and medical personnel) retains an up-to-date database showing both images of and the current names in use for MDMA drugs. The database currently holds over 5,800 entries.
When ingested, MDMA acts as a stimulant, producing intoxicating effects. These effects include:
- Enhanced energy
- Self-awareness and sense of well-being (mood lift, euphoria)
- Increased extroversion (willingness to communicate, share deep-seated emotions)
- Forgiveness, love, and empathy towards others and self
- Increased sensory perception (taste, smell, touch, hearing, vision)
- Enhanced tactile sensations
- Decreased pain perception
People taking MDMA in tablet or capsule form see the first effects after roughly 45 minutes, peaking within another 15 to 30 minutes after that. The effects are said to last, on average, around 3 hours, yet side effects have been reported to occur up to several days later.
When coupled with its use during heavy physical activity, in a warm environment, or for long periods of time, MDMA use can lead to a rare, though serious adverse effect. Extra rigorous activity brought on by MDMA can lead to hyperthermia, a marked rise in body temperature. Hyperthermia requires prompt medical attention and, in many environments where MDMA is often used, that is sometimes not possible. The results of hyperthermia include muscle breakdown, fatal swelling of the brain, electrolyte imbalances leading to kidney failure, or even heart failure due to the reduction of the heart’s pumping ability.
Other less rare reported side-effects include:
- Decreased cognitive function
- Motion perception reduction
- High blood pressure
- Involuntary jaw clenching
- Depersonalization (detached feeling)
- Scattered or illogical thoughts
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle or joint stiffness
- Restless legs
- Loss of appetite and/or nausea
- Anxiety, aggression, depression, or irritability
- Impaired memory
- Heart damage
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