Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as ecstasy or “molly,” is a synthetic drug derived from amphetamine.1 It produces effects such as feelings of mental stimulation, decreased anxiety, and enhanced sensory perception. However, as with any street drug, using MDMA also comes with notable risks.
Ecstasy became popular during the 1970s and 1980s when it became a mainstream street drug associated with music festivals, raves, concerts, and clubs. BZP (benzylpiperazine) is now also being used as a “legal form” of ecstasy.
In 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed MDMA on the list of Schedule I drugs, meaning that it isn’t used to treat any medical condition and has a high potential for abuse.2
Also Known As: Other common names for MDMA include Adam, Beans, Clarity, E, Hug, Love drug, Molly, Roll, Scooby snacks, Snowball, X, or XTC.
Drug Class: Ecstasy acts as both a stimulant and a hallucinogen.
Common Side Effects: Some of the more common side effects of ecstasy include nausea, blurred vision, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and involuntary teeth clenching.
How to Recognize Ecstasy
Ecstasy usually comes in a small, colored tablet that may have a brand logo or cartoon character stamped on it. It can also come in a capsule, liquid, or powder form. It usually has a bitter taste. MDMA pills frequently include other dangerous substances such as meth, cocaine, ketamine, or LSD.
What Does Ecstasy Do?
MDMA works by boosting the activity of three brain chemicals called neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.3 These chemicals play a part in a variety of functions such as mood, energy level, appetite, trust, sexual activity, emotions, and sleep.
The effects typically begin within 30 minutes of taking the drug and last for three to six hours.
What the Experts Say
One five-year study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that only 60% of the ecstasy tablets they tested contained any MDMA at all.4 Those that did contain the drug were frequently mixed with other substances, most often bath salts (aka “fake cocaine”).
In nearly a quarter of the samples tested, researchers were not even able to determine what substances the pills contained. The researchers suggested that offering on-site pill-testing stations at concerts and other social events where ecstasy is commonly consumed might reduce risks to users.
The fact that most ecstasy pills contain unknown substances is dangerous because people taking the drug don’t know for sure what they are ingesting or how their bodies will react. Another danger is that potential interactions can occur between the ingredients as well as any other substances people use with MDMA such as alcohol, medications, or other drugs.5
The drug is often taken at social events such as raves and concerts due to its energizing effects. The problem is that it is impossible to know if these effects are due to the drug itself or the presence of other stimulants that ecstasy is often mixed with.