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The Effects of Ecstasy Use

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. Overview of Ecstasy
  3. Short Term Effects
  4. Side Effects
  5. Long-Term Effects
  6. Ecstasy Dependency
  7. Treatment for Addiction and Withdrawal

Man taking pill

Overview of Ecstasy

Ecstasy is the more common street name for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine—a substituted amphetamine drug also known as MDMA. This is a synthetic chemical, with complex effects that mimic both methamphetamine link url stimulants and mescaline hallucinogens.

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The drug is known by many names including:

  • E.
  • X.
  • XTC.
  • Scooby snacks.
  • Roll.
  • Beans.

The drug was patented by the German pharmaceutical company, Merck, in the early 1910s. The substance was not used much until the 1950s, at which point the U.S. Army began further investigating the potential psychological uses for the drug. After this plan was dropped, MDMA experienced some research and use during the 1960s in psychotherapy and psychiatry settings. It was used to improve mood and lower anxiety in social situations. Surprisingly, at one point the substance was considered for its potential as a diet pill before MDMA research was shelved by Merck.

In the 1970s, the drug became more commonly used in social situations and parties to enhance the pleasurable experiences. Prior to being a controlled substance, it was once a brand name for MDMA—and the descriptive label has continued being used today.

Ecstasy came under scrutiny in 1985 when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) banned its use due to its potential as an agent of brain damage. Today, it remains on the list of drugs prohibited from sale or use.  MDMA is categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that there is no legal purpose or benefit of the drug.

Learn more about MDMA in our article, Ecstasy History and Statistics.

Ecstasy Effects Quiz question 1

Video: The Dangers of "Molly"

The following video from UMass Medical school describes why Molly isn't the safe alternative to some other drugs that some believe it to be.

Credit: UMass Medical School

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Short Term Effects

A short term effect of the drug is the suppression of certain basic physical needs, like eating, drinking, and sleeping due to the stimulant effect of the substance.

Often taken in pill or tablet form, ecstasy can have numerous undesirable side effects, including transient hypertension and problems with thermoregulation (resulting in elevated body temperature).

Shortly after taking it, the user may experience a range of effects due to the combination of stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Desired effects of ecstasy that can begin in as little as 30 minutes and last for up to 6 hours include:

  • A perceived increase in energy levels.
  • A euphoric state of being.
  • Distorted perception of time.
  • Higher pleasure from and desire for physical touch.

  • Increased levels of sexuality and sexual arousal.
  • Elevated alertness.
  • Increased energy and focus.

Feelings of emotional peace and empathy are also common among those who are high on ecstasy. When recounting what the high is like, many users report perceived changes in time and space, as well as in their sense of touch.

Another short-term effect of the drug is the suppression of certain basic physical needs, like eating, drinking, and sleeping due to the stimulant effect of the substance. As a consequence, an individual on ecstasy may attend contemporary "rave" parties, or dance/music festivals that may exceed 24 or even 48 hours in duration—all the while focusing on loud, electronic music, flashing lights, and extended periods of dancing to enhance the effects of the drug.

Ecstasy Effects Quiz question 2

Side Effects

Like any drug, ecstasy can produce unexpected and even dangerous side effects. The side effects include the following:

  • Nausea.
  • Muscle cramping.
  • Fever.
  • Sweating and chills.
  • Shaking and tremors.
  • Hallucinations.

  • Blurred vision.
  • Higher heart rate.
  • Increase in blood pressure.
  • Tension in mouth, face, and jaw.
  • Feeling faint.


The health effects of an overdose are even more extreme. These can occur when the user takes more than one dose of the substance at a time, or they take a series of pills over a period to maintain the desired effects of ecstasy. This practice is called “piggybacking.”

These symptoms merit immediate medical treatment and include:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Seizures.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Extreme increase in body temperature.
  • Organ damage and complications due to increased body temperature.

At its most extreme, ecstasy overdose may cause death by heat stroke and heart failure. Because it masks the need for food, water, and rest while increasing temperature and level of physical activity, this substance has also been linked to deaths by dehydration and exhaustion.

Other unexpected effects can occur, but are difficult to attribute solely to the actions of MDMA, since ecstasy tablets are often mixed with other substances like methamphetamine, caffeine and/or ketamine. At times, people will intend to buy ecstasy, but the pill contains none of the substance at all. These misrepresentations create many issues and potential safety concerns as the user will not understand the effects, and they will vary wildly from one instance of drug use to another.

Ecstasy Effects Quiz question 4

Long-Term Effects

While research on the long-term effect is ongoing, certain traits are shared by regular users. For example, a 1998 study asserted that irreparable damage to serotonin neurotransmitters was observed in a group of users. Researchers believe that ecstasy causes a flood of serotonin in the brain during use, and the damage is caused by the overproduction. Since serotonin levels affect learning, sleep and emotional processes, such damage can leave users severely impaired.

Without proper functioning of the neurotransmitters, conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and memory loss are more likely to occur. These conditions can be present for long periods even after use has ended.

Ecstasy Effects Quiz question 5

Ecstasy Dependency

Person buying pills

As habitual users develop a tolerance to the drug, they need more to achieve the same level of effects.

Ecstasy and the quest to get more of it can begin to dominate the lives of those abusing it. Work, school, commitments, and relationships can easily become subordinate to the drug. Such a shift in priorities can mark the beginning of addiction. People addicted to it will be more likely to engage in dangerous, risky, or illegal activity to get more and will care little for possible repercussions.

While addiction – or more technically, a 'substance use disorder'– is a psychological diagnosis, the concept of dependency describes a physiological process. Someone dependent on ecstasy will feel uncomfortable or irritable when not on the drug.

When supplies run out, withdrawal symptoms begin. MDMA's withdrawal symptoms share some overlap with those of the stimulant class of drugs, and many of them are psychological in nature. Among them are:

  • Increased cravings and desire for more.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Insomnia.
  • Out-of-body perceptions.

  • Inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.
  • Paranoid delusions.
  • Depression.

Withdrawal effects are often the opposite of the desired effects for the substance. Someone under the influence may experience elevated affect, and feel more connected to the people around them, while someone experiencing withdrawal may demonstrate increased social isolation and despondency.

A person experiencing these symptoms can be a threat to his or her own health and safety, as well as to the well-being of others.

Ecstasy Effects Quiz question 6

Treatment for Addiction and Withdrawal

Ending a period of ecstasy – one that has occurred at high levels, or for an extended period of time – is a difficult process, and one that can benefit immensely from specialized physical and mental health care. Depending on the circumstances, a rehab center may be the optimal environment in which to manage detoxification, which is the process of removing the substance and its chemical influences from your body.

Many treatment centers will administer medications to offset the physical and mental discomfort that the withdrawal entails. As detoxification progresses, the withdrawal symptoms mentioned earlier could become quite intense.

Woman in detox

Following detoxification, treatment will usually shift to ongoing rehabilitation. This typically will entail psychosociobehavioral interventions, in which attempts will be made to help the patient understand the nature of the addiction and ways to avoid future triggers. Once these triggers are recognized, mental health professionals can devise a strategy for the recovering addict so that relapse is avoided.

Participation in a 12-step group or other support fellowship can bolster the gains made in therapy.

Rehabilitation centers range from resort-like properties to more pared down facilities. Insurance benefits, financial resources, and priorities of the patient will determine the level of luxury a recovering addict may experience.

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