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Article Summary


Ecstasy is an illicit drug which individuals use because it acts as a stimulant, and it is also known to produce some psychedelic effects as well. Individuals can take the drug in capsule or pill form, and there is typically some sort of logo on the pill or capsule which is available in a number of colors. Ecstasy is considered a "party drug" because of the effects that it creates, making users feel energetic, euphoric and able to sustain considerable party-going for hours and hours without stopping. It is in the top 20 of drugs which are abused throughout the world, and over 14 million Americans say they have tried Ecstasy at least once in their lives.

What Is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy emerged in clubs and parties known as raves in the 1980's, and has remained popular ever since. Because it is thought to be one of the least dangerous illicit drugs and because it is such an effective stimulant, Ecstasy is a very attractive drug of abuse for teens and young adults and there are millions of new users each year. While the user profile of Ecstasy is typically young party-goers as described above, the drug reaches a broader spectrum of user than it did perhaps 20 years ago. For example, Ecstasy is a very popular drug of choice in the gay community among users who "party" while also engaging in risky sexual behavior.

Someone who is high on Ecstasy can expect to experience a significant boost in energy, an extremely enhanced sense of touch, along with a feeling of well being and extreme euphoria. These effects are created by the way Ecstasy effects the chemicals in the brain which signal reward, primarily serotonin which influences one's mood, sexual activity, sleep, and one's sensitivity to pain. These changes which take place when someone takes Ecstasy are quite profound, and are feelings and reactions which cannot be replicate when serotonin levels are at typical pre-Ecstasy levels. So the problem enters in when Ecstasy's effects wear off, when serotonin levels actually fall below what they were before the individual had taken the drug. This then results in a completely opposite reaction, meaning the individual coming down off of Ecstasy will feel lethargic, depressed, anxious, etc.

While it has long been purported that Ecstasy is a benign drug and does not cause dependency, time has shown that this could not be further from the truth. Because of the intense come down and severe depression that users experience when Ecstasy wears off, many users will take more of the drug to ward off this symptoms. This is typical behavior of anyone who is dependent to any drug, much like heroin or cocaine users will repeatedly use to avoid unwanted symptoms of withdrawal, etc. One study of Ecstasy users showed a 43% rate of dependence, which means the individuals continued to use the drug despite physical, emotional or psychological harm and consequences. Studies have also shown that aside from the risks associated with dependence after only short-term use, chronic Ecstasy users also experience long-term side effects such as memory loss and poor cognitive function.

Ecstasy Abuse

One of the more serious problems with Ecstasy use is that individuals set themselves up for serious consequences when using the drug while partying for hours on end and don't hydrate properly. Because Ecstasy users are under the influence of the drug and think they have limitless amounts of energy and stamina, they don't realize their body is actually completely exhausted and dehydrated, and so many users put themselves at risk of dangerously overheating their bodies, a condition known as hyperthermia. This can damage the liver, kidneys and also cause cardiovascular failure. This condition can therefore be very dangerous and in some cases lead to death. Many seasoned Ecstasy users are aware of these dangers and so will take precautions to hydrate, although too much water can cause problems as well and lead to water toxicity in the body. Because it is a stimulant, Ecstasy also increases heart rate and blood pressure. Individuals with pre-existing conditions affecting their heart of circulatory system are putting themselves at risk of serious health problems and may be setting themselves up for a heart attack or stroke. Other dangers have to do with Ecstasy interfering with its own metabolism causing the drug to be broken down too slowly in the body, prompting the individual to take more too soon which can result in an overdose in some cases.

Another potential danger with Ecstasy use is a danger which is typical of all drugs, and that is the factor of drug purity. MDA and PMA for example are drugs that are similar to Ecstasy and are even sometimes sold as Ecstasy, but are far more toxic. There are instances of fatal overdoses among individuals who took what they thought was Ecstasy pills which were in fact MDA or PMA. There could be any number of toxic substances in an Ecstasy tablet or pill, and users never in fact know what they are ultimately putting into their system. Producers of the drug often cut corners to garner a better profit, by cutting Ecstasy pills with over the counter medicines, other fillers, or even other illegal drugs such as meth which is far more addictive. Because the purity factor is unknown, individuals who think they are taking Ecstasy may be taking something which will affect them in a completely different way or even put them at an even higher risk of overdose or other serious health consequences.

Ecstasy Abuse Treatment

Ecstasy dependence is a very real and common occurrence, and users should not be disillusioned by reports that it is a benign drug. Ecstasy is in fact a very dangerous drug of abuse and individuals who do become dependence to it may require treatment in drug rehab, much like any other drug of abuse. Individuals who do require treatment for Ecstasy dependence can speak with a counselor at a drug rehab program in their area to see which treatment option is best for them.

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