In the world of drug use, not all substances are created equally. While the negative effects of abuse and addiction to any substance are always present and apparent, the long-term physical effects may look different from substance to substance. MDMA or 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine, has long since been a fan-favorite of the party scene and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) following, alike.
During the course of the past two decades, use of this drug has been on the upswing and viewed by users as rather innocuous. However, this may, in fact, not be the case. People have questioned whether MDMA could produce long-term harmful effects on the human body. If so, what can you expect to experience thanks to prolonged use?
What Is MDMA?
If you’re part of the population who’s never traveled to an EDM show in the last seven years, it may be possible you’ve never even heard of MDMA. Though known by several different names, MDMA is more commonly referred to as Ecstasy or Molly.
MDMA is a synthetic drug that acts as stimulant and hallucinogen. It typically produces feelings of euphoria and energizes the user. This is why it is so fiercely prevalent in the EDM scene. It not only makes the user experience extreme, overwhelming feelings of excitement and happiness, it also provides a source of sustainable energy to continue dancing for hours on end.
The drug is also known to cause distortions in time and perception. It intensifies all sensory experiences: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. It also tends to increase the user’s self-awareness and empathy towards others.
It comes in a variety of forms: pill, powder, and even liquid. The pill and powder forms of MDMA are vastly more popular. While mainly comprised of MDMA, no matter what form of the drug you encounter, it is almost always mixed with a variety of other substances. Typically, substances like caffeine, cocaine, and even methamphetamine can be found within the chemical compound.
While MDMA itself may not be overly dangerous, the issue is that there is no regulation of the substance. That means, it’s chemical composition is extremely different every single time. For example, one tablet may consist of primarily MDMA, while another tablet purchased at the same time from the same place may be mostly meth. Unfortunately, you never really know what’s in the mixture.
History of MDMA
The history of MDMA is a long and interesting one. MDMA, like most synthetic substances, was first synthesized in a laboratory nearly 100 years ago. Originally slated as a medication designed to treat bleeding disorders, it was abandoned for nearly fifty years. Its revival came during the 1950s during the extensive research on psychedelics that was wildly popular at the time.
It first made its appearance as a street drug in the 1970s, a rare one at that. It was typically seen in your neighborhood therapist’s office, being used as a means to help difficult patients open up and become more willing to participate in therapy.
It remained legal and unregulated in the United States all the way up until 1985. It was then that the Drug Enforcement Agency finally classified it as a Schedule I drug, the same as substances like heroin or cocaine. Despite many people across the country combatting this decision, since it does have a variety of medically accepted uses and has a lower potential for abuse than other Schedule 1 drugs, the verdict remained absolute. Having a gram of MDMA is just as bad as having a gram of heroin.
Effects of Ecstasy
Despite the fact that MDMA does have a lowered potential for abuse, it is addictive for some people and can produce a physical dependence in these users. The drug works by directly impacting your brain’s chemistry. In order to produce that euphoric sensation that is sought by the user, the MDMA must flood the brain with serotonin, or the feel-good neurotransmitter. It does so by depleting the brain’s stores of serotonin.
While the subsequent immediate effect of this is euphoria, after the high dissipates, the user is usually left with severe lethargy and depression. Since the brain has no more serotonin to provide the user, it must make more to replace it. That means, over the course of several days following the use of ecstasy, severe depression is to be expected until the brain can finally level itself out.
Other, short-term effects of ecstasy are:
- Impaired judgment
- Drug cravings
- Muscle tension
- Faintness, chills, or sweating
- Involuntary teeth clenching
- Blurred vision
There has long been some serious speculation surrounding long-term health implications correlated with prolonged MDMA use. It’s been a long-held belief that, over time, the drug essentially deteriorates your brain. But until recently, there was no real concrete evidence or to see what the reality of these effects actually looks like. In the wake of this newer research, you may be surprised at the findings.
So, Does MDMA Actually Put “Holes in Your Brain”?
Well, no, not exactly.
In the 2009 study conducted by the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, researchers concluded that while there are some long-term implications, overall, ecstasy users suffer fewer negative effects than once believed.
Early studies in rats showed that using MDMA would, in fact, damage the serotonin neurons in the brain. Studies performed on primates mirrored these findings. However, the doses used in these studies were substantially higher than those used by humans in recreational settings. MDMA also does not show any nerve damage in humans.
Only very heavy users, those who have consumed over 700 doses of MDMA, showed actual changes in brain metabolism in the frontal cortex. This is contrary to the original prediction that even occasional use of the drug would have negative effects on the brain’s overall structure.
While the likelihood for long-term physical dependence on MDMA is disproportionate to other substances (meaning highly unlikely), there is still a chance that the user can develop a dependence. If this is the case, withdrawal symptoms in the form of severe depression can be expected to occur whenever cessation of use happens.
As far as the effect on cognitive and psychomotor function, their findings were also fairly surprising. While MDMA users definitely did show permanent effects in these areas, the users still remained within the “normal” range. Actual users actually self-measured far worse than what the study actually found. That means that the people who use MDMA actually have a degree of self-concern, and believe the drug has had a bigger impact on their lives and bodies than it may have actually had.
While the long-term effects of MDMA use may not be as bad as we have thought, the drug itself is still dangerous and can be life-threatening. The potential for addiction is also still prevalent and many people may find themselves dependent on MDMA. That’s where Pathway to Hope comes in.
If you or someone you know is struggling with MDMA addiction, or substance abuse in general, call Pathway to Hope 24/7 at 844-557-8575 or contact us online to be connected to an admissions professional. They can provide an assessment and access to the help that you or a loved one may need. Don’t delay; make the call now and start on the road toward recovery!