Dangers of Long-term Ecstasy Use


Ecstasy is the most common name for MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), a powerful stimulant that is thought of quite differently from similarly-classed drugs such as “speed” or crystal meth or cocaine.

You know it as the drug that makes the skin feel intense pleasure when touched, that heightens the senses and tingles the body.  It’s been tremendously popular among teens and early 20-somethings for the last fifteen or twenty years.

The drug has a high profile among pop stars, teeny-bopper TV stars, and ravers from all walks of life.  before we look at the long-term effects of the drug, which will be the thrust of this post, let’s look at the drug in more general terms.

3 Big Chemicals

So why do they call ecstasy anyway?  What has to happen in your brain for to you feel you’re in ecstasy?  It’s all about the chemicals.  MDMA goes to work on three of the usual suspects, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.  The last of these, serotonin, is the particular target of ecstasy.  You know that depressed people are said to have serotonin problems, either deficiencies or problems with receptors.  The use of ecstasy floods the brain with serotonin, and this is what causes a quick boost in mood.  Not only is there a sort of giddiness from the excess serotonin, but that chemical in turn triggers even more important chemicals, vasopressin and the infamous oxytocin.  These are love and affection chemicals (along with trust, security, etc.), and that is where the user gets the extreme amounts of affection and lovey-dovey feelings.

The distorted feeling of touch probably also comes from the serotonin.  The feelings of alertness and intense energy probably come from releases of norepinephrine.

As one can probably predict, the flood of these chemicals isn’t all positive.  It can also cause dizziness, anxiousness, confusion, etc.  These are the immediate effects.

A 2011 psychcentral article discusses possible longterm serotonin loss that can be caused by frequent ecstasy use over a period of time.  The article quotes Ronald Cowan, professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, as saying “our study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that the drug causes chronic loss of serotonin in humans.”

While use of ecstasy increases receptors of serotonin-2A, it does so to make up for the lack of the amount of serotonin, and that is the ultimate problem.

Serious Dangers

We’ve discussed damage to some of the chemicals in the brain, but there are further risks with taking Ecstasy.  These risks also include kidney damage and high blood pressure and risk of heart attack.  Some research says that these can go away after one stops using the drug.

There’s also the major issue of dehydration.  This can affect the major filtering organs such as the liver, which won’t function properly without hydration.  The chewing on the lip or sucking on pacifiers common among users wreaks havoc on mouth and gum tissues.

Memory Loss

A decade ago, researchers determined, through repeated tests, that MDMA was indeed linked to memory loss.  One such test was enacted by Konstantine Zakzanis of The University of Toronto.  Zakzanis studied 15 users from the ages of 17-31, all MDMA users, with a frequency of about 2.4 times each month.  The subjects then stopped taking the drug for two weeks.  They were tested at the beginning of the study and then at the end.  Asked to recall the contents of a news story, they did much more poorly at the end of the study.  They also suffered lower abilities to navigate and to remember names.

Worst-case scenarios

Because of its tweaking your serotonin, the use of MDMA can cause problems with your body temperature.  Not likely, but possible, is the onset of hyperthermia, a sharp rise in body temperature that can cause liver or kidney failure, or possibly death.

These are the risks of longterm use of ecstasy.  Please use this information wisely.

Photo Credits Victor Manuel Gómez G. on Flickr