What is ecstasy?
Ecstasy (also known by its chemical name, MDMA) is often seen as the original designer drug because of its high profile links to dance music culture in the late 80s and early 90s. Clubbers took ecstasy to feel energised, happy, to stay awake and to dance for hours. The effects take about half an hour to kick in and tend to last between 3 to 6 hours, followed by a gradual comedown.
The main effects and risks of ecstasy include:
- An energy buzz that makes people feel alert, alive, in tune with their surroundings, and with sounds and colours often experienced as more intense.
- Users often develop temporary feelings of love and affection for the people they're with and for the strangers around them.
- Short-term risks of ecstasy can include feeling anxious or getting panic attacks, and developing confused episodes, paranoia or even psychosis.
- Some people have been known to take another ‘E’ when they haven't yet felt the expected ‘high’ of their first ‘E’. The danger then is that both Es kick in at once and you’ve got a double dose of effects to deal with.
A big problem with ecstasy is that it’s rarely pure. Sometimes, there is no MDMA at all. Sometimes, it contains other drugs, like PMA, which can be fatal. Regardless of what it looks like and what it is called, you can’t be sure what’s in a pill or a powder and you can’t predict how you’ll react.
What does ecstasy look like?
Pure ecstasy is a powder made of white crystals, known to chemists as MDMA. Ecstasy is usually sold on the street as tablets, although it's getting more common to see it sold as powder and called by its chemical name, MDMA, or 'crystal'.
Ecstasy pills come in all sorts of colours and some of them have designs or logos stamped into them. This can result in some ecstasy pills getting ‘nicknames’, for example some pills were called Mitsubishi's because they were stamped with a Mitsubishi logo.
Some dealers pass off new man-made drugs like PMA and 4-MTA and ‘legal highs’ as E’s.
Their effects can be very different or they may take longer to kick in with a risk of the user ‘double-dosing’ to get the buzz they’re looking for (risking double the side effects).
How do people take ecstasy?
Ecstasy pills are usually swallowed – although some people do crush them up and smoke or snort them.
A recent study has suggested that some ecstasy pills may be marketed as being stronger than others, and that increased strength may be reflected in a higher price.
MDMA powder can be ‘dabbed’ onto the gums or snorted.
People have been known to take another E when they haven't initially felt the expected ‘high’ from the first one, this is called ‘double dosing’. The danger then is that both Es kick in and you’ve a double dose of effects (and risks!) to deal with.
Ecstasy makes users feel energised, alert and alive – and on its own, it’s not a drug that makes people violent.
It can also have other effects:
- Ecstasy makes people feel ‘in tune’ with their surroundings, and can make music and colours more intense.
- Users often have temporary feelings of love and affection for the people they're with and for the strangers around them.
- Short-term effects of use can include anxiety, panic attacks, confused episodes, paranoia and even psychosis.
- Lots of people feel really chatty on E., (although these chats don't always make sense to people who aren't on an E!).
- Physical side effects can include dilated pupils, a tingling feeling, tightening of the jaw muscles, raised body temperature and the heart beating faster.
What are the health risks of ecstasy?
Taking ecstasy involves some risks. Here’s what it could do to you:
- There’s no way of telling what’s in ecstasy until you've swallowed it. There may be negative side effects from other drugs and ingredients added to the E.
- The comedown from ecstasy can make people feel lethargic and depressed.
- Evidence suggests long-term users can suffer memory problems and may develop depression and anxiety.
- Using Ecstasy has been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems. Some users report getting colds and sore throats more often, which may be partly caused by staying awake for 24 hours, which can itself affect your immune system.
- Anyone with a heart condition, blood pressure problems, epilepsy or asthma can have a very dangerous reaction to the drug.
- There’ve been over 200 ecstasy-related deaths in the UK since 1996. Ecstasy causes many of these deaths, but some involve other substances sold as ecstasy, such as PMA.
- Ecstasy affects the body's temperature control. Dancing for long periods in a hot atmosphere, like a club, increases the chances of overheating and dehydration. Users should take regular breaks from the dance floor to cool down and watch out for any mates who are on it – they mightn’t realise they're in danger of overheating or getting dehydrated.
- However, drinking too much can also be dangerous. Ecstasy can cause the body to release a hormone which stops it making urine. Drink too quickly and it affects your body's salt balance, which can be as deadly as not drinking enough water. Users should sip no more than a pint of water or non-alcoholic drink every hour.
What is ecstasy cut with?
A big problem with Ecstasy pills is that they're rarely pure. They can be cut with amphetamines (like speed), caffeine and other substances with some similar effects – because it’s cheaper to produce and can increase the dealer’s profits.
When Ecstasy has been cut with an alternative stimulant that is slower to kick in than MDMA, some users have then topped-up with another dose prematurely; and then they find they suffer side-effects because they’ve then overdosed.
Can you get addicted to Ecstasy?
It's possible to build up tolerance to ecstasy, which means people need to take more of the drug to get the same buzz.
You may also develop a psychological dependence (a strong desire to keep on using despite the long-term risks, such as damaging relationships or losing your job).
Ecstasy and the law
- Ecstasy is a Class A drug and is illegal to have, give away or sell.
- Possession can get you up to seven years in jail.
- Supplying someone else, including your friends, can get you life and an unlimited fine.
What if you’re caught?
If the Police catch you with ecstasy, they’ll always take some action. This could include a formal caution, arrest and prosecution.
- A conviction for a drug-related offence could have a serious impact. It can stop you visiting certain countries – for example the United States – and limit the types of jobs you can apply for.
Did you know?
- Like drinking and driving, driving when under the influence of drugs is illegal – in fact you can still be unfit to drive the day after using ecstasy, especially if you’ve been up all night dancing. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.
- Allowing other people to use ecstasy in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch someone they can prosecute the landlord, club owner or person holding the party.