What is MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)?
MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with a chemical structure similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline.
Ecstasy is an illegal drug that acts as both a stimulant and psychedelic, producing an energizing effect, as well as distortions in time and perception and enhanced enjoyment from tactile experiences.
MDMA was first synthesized by a German company in 1912, possibly to be used as an appetite suppressant. It has been available as a street drug since the 1980s, and use escalated in the 1990s among college students and young adults. Then, it was most often distributed at late-night parties called “raves”, nightclubs, and rock concerts.
As the rave and club scene expanded to metropolitan and suburban areas across the country, molly use and distribution increased as well. Ecstasy is frequently used in combination with other drugs. Today, the drug is still used by a broader group of people who more commonly call it Ecstasy or Molly.
How does MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) affect the brain?
Molly exerts its primary effects in the brain on neurons that use the chemicals serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine to communicate with other neurons.
Serotonin is most likely responsible for the feelings of empathy, elevated mood, and emotional closeness experienced with this drug. Overall, these neurotransmitter systems play an important role in regulating:
- energy/activity and the reward system
- sexual activity
- sensitivity to pain
- heart rate, blood pressure.
A person may experience the intoxicating effects of ecstacy within 45 minutes or so after taking a single dose. Those effects include an enhanced sense of well-being, increased extroversion, emotional warmth, empathy toward others, and a willingness to discuss emotionally-charged memories In addition, people report enhanced sensory perception as a hallmark of the MDMA experience
Recreational use of molly is often characterized by repeated drug taking over a number of days (binges), followed by periods of no drug taking. In one animal study, this pattern of use produced irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and heart damage. In the week following use of the drug, many people report depression, impaired attention and memory, anxiety, aggression, and irritability.
Effects of Regular MDMA Use
Sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, concentration difficulties, depression, heart disease, and impulsivity have been associated with regular use of MDMA. In addition, heavy MDMA use over a 2-year period of time is associated with decreased cognitive function. Some of these disturbances may not be directly attributable to MDMA, but may be related to some of the other drugs often used in combination with MDMA, such as cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana, or to adulterants commonly found in MDMA tablets. More research is needed to understand the specific effects of regular molly use.
How is MDMA used?
MDMA is most often available in tablet or capsule form and is usually ingested by mouth. Ecstasy traffickers consistently use brand names, colors and logos as marketing tools and to distinguish their product from that of competitors. The logos may be produced to coincide with holidays or special events. Among the more popular logos are butterflies, lightning bolts, and four-leaf clovers.
It is also available as a powder and is sometimes snorted, taken as a liquid, and it is occasionally smoked but rarely injected.
How is MDMA used in medicine?
The DEA considers MDMA an illegal schedule I drug with no recognized medical uses.
Researchers are looking at Ecstasy use as a possible treatment for:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- anxiety in terminally ill patients
- social anxiety in autistic adults