MDMA is a recreational drug that is sometimes known as molly or ecstasy. Taken for its euphoric effects, MDMA is a popular party drug. When a person takes MDMA, they experience a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms. In some ways, the effects of MDMA can be likened to both hallucinogenic drugs as well as stimulant drugs. Taking the substance not only causes mood changes but can also dramatically affect a person’s perception. Individuals who take MDMA often report feeling more connected to each other.
For these reasons, young people are increasingly abusing MDMA. Unfortunately, MDMA abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous, leading to mental health problems and life-threatening overdoses.
MDMA is an acronym for the name of a specific chemical: 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. This chemical is a synthetic drug that causes changes in mood and perception. When a person takes MDMA, the drug alters both their emotions and their perceptions of their environment. MDMA has shared qualities with both stimulants and hallucinogens. It creates strong feelings of energy, pleasure, and emotional connection. The drug can also distort the perception of time, as well as sensory perception.
As a drug that helps people connect and increases energy levels, MDMA was originally popular in the nightclub scene. In fact, MDMA contributed significantly to the growth of rave culture. All-night dance parties and after-hours events quickly developed during the MDMA boom of the 90s. Today, however, MDMA use has spread far beyond rave culture. Young people are increasingly abusing MDMA alone at home, and even combining it with other substances. The consequences, unsurprisingly, are often dangerous – even fatal.
As a recreational drug, MDMA has many alternative street names. It is most commonly known as ecstasy or molly. These names can be confusing, however, since drug dealers and MDMA users often claim that they mean different things. Many people claim, for instance, that “ecstasy” refers to MDMA that is combined with stimulants, such as amphetamine. It is also widely believed that “molly” refers to a pure formulation of MDMA without any contaminants. In reality, however, almost all versions of MDMA sold illicitly on the street are impure. In almost every case, drug dealers add contaminants to their MDMA to sell more of the drug or make it seem more potent.
MDMA is commonly cut with many different contaminants, including:
- Rat poison
Nonetheless, it is sometimes possible to use pure MDMA. MDMA is increasingly being experimented with in therapeutic settings. Medical-grade MDMA, of course, is pure. Preliminary research has demonstrated that MDMA consumption, when administered by trained clinicians under strict supervision, has some promise for treating certain mental health disorders. These mental illnesses include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder. However, it is vital to recognize that MDMA by itself does not cure these conditions. Rather, there is evidence that MDMA might, when used in conjunction with behavioral therapy, help with these conditions.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies MDMA as a Schedule I Controlled Substance because of its high potential for abuse and addiction. Currently, there are no officially recognized benefits to using MDMA, so all MDMA consumption is considered abuse.
MDMA Side Effects
People engage in MDMA abuse because they are seeking the strong feelings of well-being, friendliness, interconnectedness, motivation, and happiness that MDMA provides. When taking MDMA, drug abusers often believe that their 5 senses have been “improved,” due to the altered perception side effects of the drug. To sum it up, MDMA basically feels quite good — at least in the short term. Other effects of MDMA include:
- Calmness and relaxation
- Lowered inhibitions
- Heightened senses
- Increased energy
- Increased sense of connection to other people
These effects are by and large experienced as subjectively positive. Unfortunately, MDMA also causes a wide range of unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. These dangerous cognitive and physical consequences of MDMA abuse include but are not limited to:
- Muscle cramping
- Confusion and cognitive issues
- Blurred vision
- Involuntary teeth clenching
- Mood swings
The MDMA “high” generally lasts no longer than 6 hours, and sometimes as short as 3 hours. When the drug is taken in the context of a nightclub or rave, it is common practice for individuals to take multiple doses. Doing so can prevent the drug from wearing off, and many people spend an entire night experiencing an MDMA high, which lets them continue without feeling sleep-deprived. Unfortunately, this practice dramatically increases the risks of MDMA abuse.
Effects of MDMA Withdrawal
The MDMA high is relatively short-lived. The aftereffects of taking MDMA, however, can last far longer than 6 hours. In fact, the withdrawal effects of taking MDMA can last for a week or even longer. These effects are the exact opposite of MDMA’s positive and uplifting effects. While MDMA can temporarily produce feelings of euphoria, energy, and connectedness, withdrawing from MDMA is more likely to make people feeling depressed, sluggish, and lonely. These symptoms can exacerbate pre-existing mental health disorders and can even make it impossible for a person to complete everyday tasks.
Side effects of MDMA withdrawal include but are not limited to the following:
- Sleep problems
- Aggression and impulsiveness
- Memory and attention problems
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased pleasure from or interest in sex
Taking other medications alongside MDMA, a practice known as polysubstance abuse, can significantly increase the severity and unpredictability of withdrawal effects. MDMA generally contains contaminants, ranging from synthetic opioids to amphetamine, which can also make withdrawal effects more dangerous. In fact, the side effects of MDMA withdrawal can even be life-threatening, especially when the drug is combined with other substances.
How Does MDMA Work?
MDMA works by increasing the activity of many chemicals in the brain. However, the three most important chemicals that MDMA affects are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters all play an important role in mood, energy, and perception.
- Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls appetite, mood, sleep, and other important functions. Serotonin can also activate certain hormones that control trust and sexual arousal. When large quantities of serotonin are released in the brain, people experience elevated moods, feelings of emotional closeness, and increased empathy.
- Norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter affects both blood pressure and heart rate. As a result, taking high doses of MDMA can be risky for individuals who have blood vessel problems or weak hearts.
- Dopamine. Dopamine is sometimes known as the “reward’ chemical in the brain. It plays an important role in the brain’s decision-making centers. Dopamine reinforces activities and can also reinforce addictive behaviors. It produces energy and raises activity levels.
One of the reasons why MDMA withdrawal can be so destabilizing is that these neurotransmitters are depleted after an MDMA high wears off.
Signs and Symptoms of MDMA Addiction
If your friend, family, or loved one is abusing MDMA, it may be difficult to tell. This is because young people generally work hard to prevent their closest loved ones from detecting their drug problems. After all, if family members discover it, it will become far more difficult to abuse MDMA! As such, individuals who need the most help are often the last to have their problem recognized. This is especially true with MDMA, which tends to be consumed in social settings rather than at home. This makes it far easier to conceal from family members and roommates. Nonetheless, if an individual is struggling with MDMA addiction, they will inevitably show certain signs no matter what they do to try to conceal their issue.
Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of MDMA abuse is critical for friends and family members. Many of the most visible effects of MDMA abuse occur when a person combines MDMA with other substances, such as marijuana, alcohol, prescription painkillers, and cocaine. Individuals who use MDMA have high rates of polysubstance abuse, partly because they trust other people more and are less afraid of taking risks. As a result, individuals who abuse MDMA are often willing to accept unidentified drugs or drinks from people they may not know.
Aside from polysubstance abuse, MDMA addiction leads to many behavioral, physical, and psychological changes.
MDMA Abuse and Behavioral Changes
When an individual regularly abuses MDMA they may undergo many behavior changes. Naturally, their behavior is likely to be considerably altered while they are experiencing the short-term effects of MDMA. But more concerningly, their behavior is likely to be altered when they are not even high. This is especially true during the days after consuming MDMA, when they are dealing with the ups and downs of MDMA withdrawal.
Changes in a person’s approach to social interaction are often the most notable. MDMA, molly, and ecstasy are often used with the explicit purpose of smoothing out social interactions. They are popular drugs in the context of nightclubs, raves, and parties, due to their ability to make people feel more sociable and even more empathetic. If your loved one seems to be suddenly more social, or if they suddenly have an entirely new peer group of “partiers,” there is a chance they have a problem.
Ironically, regular MDMA abuse also makes people less social. Withdrawal symptoms cause people to isolate themselves from friends, family members, and other loved ones. Symptoms of depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by MDMA withdrawal. As a result, individuals recovering from MDMA might distance themselves from hobbies and activities that they once enjoyed.
Other common behavioral changes that individuals addicted to MDMA exhibit include:
- Hostile or unpredictable mood changes
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Uncooperative attitude
- Worsened performance at school or work
- Social isolation
Individuals abusing MDMA sometimes also become more sexually active. The reasons are partly contextual: MDMA is especially common at nightclubs, raves, and other events where heightened sexual activity is the norm. MDMA can foster feelings of connection with other people and cause people to experience increased trust. Risk-taking behavior is also common with MDMA.
Many users combine MDMA with other drugs, including sildenafil (Viagra). This combination increases the possible negative harms. Consequences of increased sexual activity from MDMA abuse include unwanted pregnancy, an increased risk of assault, and a higher likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
MDMA Abuse and Psychological Effects
Regular MDMA abuse can lead to a wide variety of mental health disorders and cognitive difficulties. It should be noted that MDMA addiction is associated with a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder. Not only that, the relationship goes both ways: having a mental health disorder makes a person more vulnerable to MDMA addiction, as well as other substance use disorders. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 50% of individuals with addictions also suffer from mental illness, and vice versa.
MDMA can provide a temporary boost to spirits. Unfortunately, this mood change is short-lived. While many individuals with depression and or anxiety turn to MDMA to alleviate their pain, over time MDMA abuse is likely to exacerbate their underlying condition. This is especially true when they develop an emotional reliance on MDMA. After MDMA has worn off, the body cannot produce serotonin for a short period. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for the sense of well-being, is necessary for quality mental health. By depleting it, MDMA abuse will in almost all cases harm a person’s psychological health.
How Does MDMA Addiction Happen?
The issue of MDMA addiction is a controversial one. Scientists do not have a definitive answer to the question of how physically addictive MDMA is. The drug does share many qualities with drugs that are physically addictive. We know it releases dopamine in the brain, which is the brain’s reward chemical that reinforces addictive behaviors. While physical dependence on MDMA is poorly understood, the fact remains that in practice many people do develop MDMA addictions.
One study demonstrated that MDMA is likely inherently addictive for all mammals. When rats were placed in a cage where they had the ability to self-administer MDMA, almost all rats chose to repeatedly administer MDMA to themselves. The rats self-administered MDMA less than they did with cocaine, but the study nonetheless demonstrated that the drug may indeed be physically addictive.
One of the reasons that MDMA addiction is a bit different from other addictions is that it is difficult to abuse MDMA in the day or two after an MDMA binge. This is because taking MDMA depletes the brain’s supply of serotonin. It takes the brain a few days to recover and rebuild that supply. During this time, an individual generally experiences intense withdrawal symptoms. Once they have recovered from MDMA withdrawal, they often have a strong desire to take MDMA again.
People who develop substance use disorders with MDMA tend to experience a range of negative consequences due to their MDMA abuse. They may even recognize these harms and have a strong desire to stop taking MDMA. Once addiction has set in, however, it is very difficult to stop taking MDMA even when a person tries to do so. In some cases, they may successfully withdraw from MDMA and cease to be physically dependent. However, it is critical to recognize that substance use disorders are mental health conditions that persist long after physical dependence ends. Without a solid treatment plan in place, relapse is common.
Long-Term Dangers of MDMA Addiction
Abusing MDMA can lead to many problems in a person’s life, and these tend to get worse over time. Health and behavioral problems may already be problematic in the short term, but over the long term, severe and even life-threatening issues can occur. Once a person has developed a physical or psychological dependence on MDMA, then they will feel that they require MDMA to feel happy or to function. Over time, they may come to prioritize MDMA abuse over all other activities, relationships, and goals. As their lives narrow and MDMA becomes the focal point, addicts may find themselves having less and less to live for aside from their addiction.
Other long-term consequences of MDMA abuse include:
- Memory loss
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders
- Impaired functioning in parts of the brain that control sleep, learning, and emotion
- Long-term brain damage
- Damaged nerve branches and nerve endings
- Kidney failure
- Cardiovascular collapse
MDMA abuse does not directly lead to an overdose. However, the effects of MDMA can often indirectly lead to potentially life-threatening health issues. In this sense, MDMA overdose is a real threat. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that every year 10,000 young people under the age of 21 have to go to the emergency room due to MDMA overdoses.
The greatest dangers of MDMA abuse occur when the body overheats. MDMA has a significant impact on the body systems that control and regulate body temperature. When MDMA is taken in a calm environment by a relatively stationary person, these changes in body temperature are not significant. However, MDMA is frequently taken in hot and crowded environments, such as nightclubs and raves. Dancing and other intense, physically taxing activities are the norms in these places. MDMA increases energy levels and often results in users straining their bodies more than they otherwise would.
As a result, MDMA abuse can result in hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is the clinical term for a dangerous spike in body temperature. Hyperthermia can rapidly cause major life-sustaining body functions to shut down. During an MDMA overdose, hyperthermia can have the following consequences:
- Brains swelling
- Muscle breakdown
- Kidney failure
- Imbalanced electrolytes
- Liver failure
- Heart failure
It is also possible to overdose on MDMA when the drug is laced with other substances. While directly overdosing on MDMA is difficult, the fact remains that MDMA is seldom pure. It is often contaminated with ketamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, bath salts, even powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl. These drugs, especially when taken unwittingly, can easily lead to life-threatening overdoses.
Recovering from MDMA Addiction
There is no specific medical treatment designed for MDMA addiction. Currently, there are no medications that reduce cravings for MDMA. While there may not be medical treatments for MDMA specifically, however, a combination of treatments can help with addiction more generally. In the case of MDMA addiction, research and rehab statistics have shown behavioral therapy to be especially helpful.
Outpatient rehabs help individuals who are suffering from MDMA abuse. At an outpatient rehab, individuals can attend treatment sessions as infrequently as once a week or as frequently as every day, depending on their needs and flexibility. At an outpatient treatment center, clients take part in a wide range of behavioral therapies, including dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). They also learn important life skills, coping tools, develop strong social support systems, and work to build newfound lives for themselves in sobriety.
MDMA Addiction Treatment at NuView Treatment Center
NuView Treatment Center is an outpatient rehab center that offers aid to individuals who are suffering from all types of drug and alcohol use disorders, as well as comorbid mental health conditions. We understand that recovering from MDMA addiction can be especially difficult. Our modern facility offers a wide variety of evidence-based treatment modalities and therapies that are designed to help individuals recover from addiction and rebuild their lives.
We take a compassionate and person-centered approach to addiction treatment. In any of our outpatient programs, clients benefit from individualized treatment plans that take into account their unique needs. All clients develop addictions for unique reasons. Clinicians practice evidence-based therapies in a group setting and on a one-on-one basis to help clients address underlying issues that may be driving their substance abuse. At the same time, clients work hard to develop a new set of coping tools, life skills, and relapse prevention plans.
At NuView Treatment Center, we offer outpatient programs for all addiction severities. Levels of care offered at our treatment center include:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
- Outpatient programs (OPs)
- Aftercare planning
If you or a loved one is currently suffering from MDMA addiction, we are here for you. There is no need to suffer alone. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation. Recovery is possible.