Is MDMA Neurotoxicity Real?

Concern over whether recreational use of the stimulant drug MDMA can cause neurotoxicity, or brain damage, has raised many questions, some answers, and unending debates.

It is known that MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, comes with risks that can only be avoided by not using the drug at all. MDMA, the abbreviation for 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is the active ingredient in ecstasy. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the drug’s intoxicating effects start within 45 minutes or so after one dose is taken. A normal dose of the drug can last four to six hours.

The effects of the drug include feelings of emotional warmth, enhanced sensory perception, a sense of well-being, and a detachment from self and surroundings, among other experiences. However, the life-threatening effects that can result from MDMA use include high blood pressure, faint, and panic attacks, among others. In severe cases, a person can lose consciousness or experiences seizures.

The effects of MDMA on the human brain have been under study, but there are different opinions on whether one can suffer from brain damage after using it regularly.

First, What Is Neurotoxicity?

Neurotox.com defines neurotoxicity as “the poisonous effects of harmful substances on nervous system function, and cause of brain damage.”

Common symptoms of neurotoxicity include:

  • Memory problems
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Learning difficulties
  • Mental processing speed
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Language problems
  • Emotional instability
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness in hands, feet

How Ecstasy Affects the Brain

NIDA reports that MDMA increases three neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Serotonin plays a key role in mood regulation, pain, sleep, and appetite while norepinephrine affects emotions, sleeping, dreaming, attentiveness, and learning. According to NIDA, the drug releases these two neurotransmitters more than dopamine.

“Like other amphetamines, MDMA enhances release of these neurotransmitters and/or blocks their reuptake, resulting in increased neurotransmitter levels within the synaptic cleft (the space between the neurons at a synapse),” the federal agency writes.

It also notes that research in rodents and primates showed that moderate to high doses of MDMA, which were given twice a day during a four-day period, damaged nerve cells that contained serotonin.

NIDA also reported that one study showed “MDMA-exposed primates showed reduced numbers of serotonergic neurons seven years later, indicating that some of MDMA’s effect on the brain can be long-lasting.”

Still, it is not exactly clear if this research can support if long-term MDMA use causes neurotoxicity.

However, as of its last writing, which is September 2017, NIDA officials report that heavy MDMA use over a two-year span has been associated with decreased cognitive functioning.

Still, other factors can contribute to this decline in brain functioning, they say.

“Some of these disturbances may not be directly attributable to MDMA, but may be related to some of the other drugs often used in combination with MDMA, such as cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana, or to adulterants commonly found in MDMA tablets.”

More studies are needed to understand the specific effects that result from using MDMA regularly.

Is MDMA-Related Neurotoxicity Difficult to Define?

In the article, “Does MDMA Cause Brain Damage,” from the book Ecstasy, The Complete Guide, the authors Matthew Baggott, BA, and John Mendelson, MD, assert that the risks associated with possible long-term brain damage after using MDMA “are more difficult to assess.”

The comprehensive article raises several points, including that neurotoxicity is difficult to define.

“Though no universal definition exists, most definitions are broad enough to encompass both short-term alcohol-induced headaches and the permanent nerve cell loss caused by the drug MPTP. A more useful approach to the question of whether MDMA is neurotoxic is to describe the nature and mechanisms of the long-term changes it can cause.”

They mention that MDMA can produce long-lasting changes to the serotonergic system at some doses of it and that these changes are accompanied by structural changes to nerve cell axons.

“In this way, it is evident that some neurotoxic MDMA regimens produce both changes in the serotonergic system and acute damage to the brain by free radicals, and thereby cause a loss of nerve cell axons. This suggests that MDMA neurotoxicity is a type of drug-induced damage, even though the consequences of this damage are unknown.,” the authors write.

Another interesting point the article raises is whether the extent of MDMA neurotoxicity depends on the dose taken and if high-risk MDMA use, such as binging with multiple doses of it, comes with greater risks of brain damage.

Dosing in studies can be an issue in MDMA neurotoxicity research, write Baggott and Mendelson.

“Research on MDMA neurotoxicity has sometimes been criticized for the repeated high dose regimens that are commonly used. Some have questioned whether repeated injections of 20 mg/kg MDMA in rodents can provide useful information about the toxicity of single oral doses of 1.7 to 2.0 mg/kg MDMA in humans.”

MDMA Is Dangerous, But Maintain Perspective

While there doesn’t appear to be one firm answer to the question of whether ecstasy causes brain damage over time, there is the view that information about the drug and its use must be kept in perspective.

“Finding the truth about MDMA neurotoxicity amidst all these rumors can be difficult,” writes DanceSafe.org, a public health organization that promotes health and safety within the nightlife and electronic music community. It reports on its site that “frightening stories” have been printed in the media about the neurotoxicity of ecstasy and explains that it has tried to avoid extremes and present well-documented and factual information about the issue.

Paul A.T. Kelly, who wrote the article titled, “Does recreational ecstasy use cause long-term cognitive problems?” for the Western Journal of Medicine, also warns against overstating the case about the harm the drug can do.

“The young people most at risk are likely to reject out of hand any ‘scare stories,’ since they feel that there have been only a few well-publicized cases of harm from the drug. These numbers are small compared to the numbers of individuals who use MDMA regularly.”

Kelly is also clear about MDMA’s dangers, citing research and writing, “Nevertheless, health care professionals should be aware that cognitive disorders, mood disturbances, and increased risk of cerebrovascular accidents are among the possible long-term, negative consequences of MDMA exposure in humans.

“Although subtle at first, these effects may develop into major deficits over the lifetime of an otherwise healthy individual.”

Put MDMA Addiction Behind You

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling an addiction to MDMA (Molly) or any substance, whether it’s legal or illegal. We focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition, help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse, and give you the tools to leave it behind.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol dependence, call Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575 today or reach out to us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.

Social Media Drug Dealers: How Apps Like Instagram Get Used to Sell Drugs

Whether it’s through direct messaging on Instagram or Kik, social media drug dealers are taking the latest app crazes as their main domain. Beyond the streets are several ways to advertise and bring new clients to a dealer’s business without having to go through the depths of the darknet, meaning more accessibility to drugs for young people and more chances to fall into addiction.

Illegal activity is not foreign to social media platforms, which is why police and government agencies often ask for cooperation from sites such as Facebook and Twitter to solve cybercrimes or obtain digital evidence for cases.

This past Easter, Facebook dealt with controversy over a man, Steve Stephens, accused of uploading a video of himself murdering Robert Godwin in cold blood on Facebook Live. The video was posted for nearly two hours before Facebook took it down, sparking conversation about how fast should social media providers respond to content that depicts criminal activities and whether the content should have reached the public at all.

Want drugs? Look for the right hashtags on social media.

Unlike the “Facebook killer” case, social media drug dealers and their clientele don’t aspire to be noticed at all. Instead, they choose apps like Instagram, Tinder, Grindr, Kik, Whisper, or Yik Yak, which allow users to create pseudonyms or remain anonymous with their accounts.

But if you know what to look for, everything is laid out in plain sight.

It’s simple: Hashtags. There aren’t any secret codes to figure out which hashtag will lead to which drug; it’s pretty straightforward. Anyone looking for marijuana can simply look up #weed4sale or #kush4sale, and if they’re looking for specific “recreational drugs,” then they can easily find them under their specific names, like #mdma or #oxycontin.

On Instagram, users might look for photos that display piles of opioid pills or powder behind a Crema filter to bring out their whiteness, or an array of nugs and acid paper accentuated by trippy Perpetua to get them in the mood. Deals on Tinder are just a matter of swiping right until you find a local match.

And then once they’ve found their next hit, it’s all taken to Kik or Whisper, anonymous direct messaging apps where social media drug dealers will lend out details for payment and delivery.

Social media drug dealers don’t leave digital trails, don’t get caught.

With hashtags and photos so blunt about a not-so-hidden online drug market, it makes a person wonder why social media drug dealers don’t get busted more often.

But don’t get it twisted: There are many risks to buying drugs online. From getting scammed to getting caught, the plausibility of something going awry is high. Police go undercover on social media platforms all the time, knowing all the tricks of the trade to find their culprits. Yet, for some people, the risk is worth the gain.

Some precautions social media drug dealers make include: selling drugs as “research” to attempt plausible deniability if caught, doing sales transactions in person rather than online, or accepting payment via Amazon gift cards as opposed to traceable accounts.

There are dealers who take the risk of accepting money via PayPal or Venmo. Because these transactions can be viewed publicly, police officials can halt the entire operation, which can then be open to a search warrant.

If social media drug dealers don’t keep an eye on their digital tracks and accidentally get busted—whether online or on the streets—their entire online history is liable to build a case against them, meaning they could be charged for deals they made 20 years ago to today despite those deals not having been directly observed.

What it comes down to is this: yes, the Internet has made drug dealing easier—especially for young teenagers who otherwise wouldn’t have any connections to drugs—but with accessibility comes responsibility. Police are highly aware of social media drug dealers and continue day after day to cut off the cobra’s head and prevent as much addiction from spreading as they can.

Get smart like your phone and call Pathway to Hope.

People exhibit cries for help on their social media platforms, but they’re not always answered, whether by people not knowing how to spot the signs of substance abuse or knowing how to help the person struggling with it. At Pathway to Hope, we know how to help you or your loved one.

If you have questions about addiction treatment, like how to afford it or what the detox process will be like, then call our 24-hour helpline at (844) 557-8575 or contact us online, and one of our call agents will assist you right away. It’s time to change the status of your life and begin your recovery. That’s something all your friends and family will surely like.

Why the US Has More Drug Addicted Babies Than Ever

The US has been seeing a recent spike in drug-addicted babies, born to addicted mothers. The ongoing opioid epidemic is largely to blame.

In recent years, it has become a common story: An injury puts someone in the hospital, the doctors prescribe powerful painkillers, and the addictive power of opioids does its work. Not all opioid addictions come from prescribed drugs; some may come from nightclub scenes and illegally purchased clinical grade substances, but, either way, the path often leads to a sinister addiction. When pills become too expensive or difficult to buy, heroin is the next best thing. The US has seen massive spikes in opioid addiction and overdose.

Since it can start with a back alley drug deal or a perfectly legal prescription for a broken collarbone, addiction has spread across a variety of demographics. Because of this, the US is seeing a dramatic increase in the otherwise least likely addicts: newborn infants.

We’ve known about fetal alcohol syndrome and “crack babies” in the mainstream since the war on drugs of the 80s and 90s, but today’s opioid addicted infants are something relatively new. In recent years, this problem has mostly revolved around the rise of prescription painkiller abuse.

OxyContin, morphine, and other opiates are highly addictive and painful to withdraw from. Babies can inherit this addiction from addicted mothers, and the first thing they experience when they are born is withdrawal. This phenomenon is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), and it saw a five-fold increase in occurrences between 2000 and 2012. In 2013, almost 1,000 babies were born to opiate drug-addicted mothers in Tennessee. That same year in Massachusetts, the rate of birth-induced addiction was 17.5 per 1,000 births — over 3x the national average. These are only a few states, and the problem is huge for the whole county.

Why NAS Happens

Most mothers would recoil at the thought of consuming harmful substances during pregnancy. It’s common practice for mothers to give up smoking and drinking during their pregnancy. So why would a mother consume something as harmful as heroin or opioids?

There are a number of reasons why an addicted mother might not be able to overcome addiction for the sake of her child. Here are few key factors:

  • Opioids are powerfully addictive, and it can be all but impossible, and even dangerous, to quit them and detox on your own.
  • Mothers are often afraid to seek help for fear of legal trouble and the potential to lose their child when someone finds out they are an addict.
  • Hospitals are hesitant to accept drug-addicted mothers. Since opioids are difficult to detox from especially when pregnancy is involved, it can be a long and delicate process. Hospitals may be afraid of the backlash if treatment fails or of the cost associated with treatment.

When hospitals do accept a drug-addicted mother, their focus is often to treat the baby, neglecting the mother or cutting her out of the process entirely. Some hospitals have begun re-thinking their practice in these cases, attempting to treat both mother and baby, with the mother’s help.

Treating Addicted Babies and their Mothers

Treating addicted babies and mothers involves a careful detox process. While some detoxifications involve removing the regular dosage of the drug and mitigating withdrawal symptoms, opioid withdrawal can be deadly. When an infant is involved, the safest way to treat the addiction is to carefully wean the child off the drug with decreasing doses of morphine.

When all is said and done, this complicated and risky process can cost thousands of dollars per patient. However, the opioid epidemic rages on and healthcare professionals are looking for new solutions.

As the national opioid epidemic gets worse, individual states are pioneering their own efforts to deal with the problem of drug-addicted mothers. Here are three of the recent efforts of 3 states and their doctors, politicians, and concerned individuals:

  • Indiana – In 2014, now U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer, addressing drug-addicted mothers in his state of Indiana. According to the Senator, the state had the 3rd highest drug-induced death rate and has seen a 3,000% increase in infant drug withdrawals since 2000. In response, he introduced legislation called “Protecting Our Infants Act,” which is designed to promote treatment and research on this problem at the national level. The bill became law in November of 2015.
  • West Virginia – The Drug-Free Mother Baby Greenbrier Valley program was started in 2012 to help in an area where 20% of babies are born to drug-addicted mothers. It’s one of 4 similar statewide efforts to treat addiction before birth occurs. Already, it’s seen success stories. WVNSTV reported that 68% of mothers get clean between pregnancy tests and birth and 67% also get clean between prenatal check-ups.
  • Pennsylvania – The Magee-Women’s Hospital at UPC recently launched an outpatient treatment program for drug-addicted mothers, which seeks to improve treatment in two crucial ways. First, it uses the opioid replacement drug buprenorphine (an active ingredient in Suboxone and Subutex, which has been described as “Methadone 2.0”). Studies indicated it’s just as effective as methadone, but without the painful side effects of detox. Secondly, the Magee program prescribes buprenorphine weekly instead of daily. This will give poorer mothers incentive to stick with the program, whereas they are often unable to go to methadone clinics, where methadone must be dispensed daily.

Hopefully, as more programs are developed in response to the opioid epidemic, mothers who have become enslaved by addiction will have more options that allow and encourage them to seek safe treatment options. Today, there are treatment centers all over the country that offer hope to those who are touched by the opioid crisis.

Are You Ready To Seek Help?

If you are someone you love is affected by opioids, heroin, or other addictive substances, the right treatment facility can help. Call Pathway to Hope today at 844-557-8575 or contact us online to learn more about your treatment options.

Airline Drug Testing Not Required for Pilots’ Physical Exams

While airline drug testing can test for the usual suspects—alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana—the same cannot be said for synthetic opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone. A bit more disconcerting is the fact that airline drug testing is also run on an optional basis when it comes to commercial airline pilots’ physical exams, meaning some pilots can go years without being tested for substance use during their career.

Take the most recent case, for example: this past March, Spirit Airlines pilot Brian Halye was found dead in his home, along with his wife, from a suspected overdose of a heroin-fentanyl mixture, within a week of his last flight. Having worked for Spirit Airlines for nine years, the immediate questions that arose were: Was Halye ever tested for drug use during his piloting career? And is this a common oversight we should be concerned about?

FAA Regulations are Strict but Still Leave Room for Error

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson in an email to the Dayton Daily News, “federal regulations require airlines to administer pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, reasonable cause, and follow-up testing for drugs and alcohol,” which would mean there would be several points in a pilot’s career to be tested.

Standards are also high to meet for US pilots, who are subjected to a blood-alcohol limit of 0.04 percent, half the legal limit for US drivers. This comes with the informal slogan from the FAA to pilots to keep “eight hours from bottle to throttle,” meaning US pilots are required to stop drinking at least eight hours before taking flight.

But while alcohol and most street drugs may be covered under airline drug testing, reports from NBC Boston revealed that synthetic painkillers—which can be sold as regular prescription pills—are not necessarily detected in pilots’ drug tests. Under the US Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, the FAA admitted, “the agency does not require testing for synthetic painkillers like fentanyl and oxycodone.”

WATCH VIDEO HERE: NBC Boston: Pilots Not Tested for Commonly Abused Drugs

“According to FAA data, 38 pilots tested positive for drugs in 2015, up 65 percent from five years earlier,” said NBC investigator, Ally Donnelly, in the video posted above, “but the FAA only requires airlines to randomly test 25 percent of safety-sensitive employees like pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics each year.”

This doesn’t include Transportation Security Administration, which has had a reported 858 TSA airport screeners test positive for drugs and/or alcohol between 2010 and 2016.

And in the case of Spirit Airlines pilot Brian Halye, while pilots under age 40 must update their first-class medical certificate every year, this only requires physical medical exams, not drug testing. Removing a pilot from a flight or in-between flights to randomly test them for substance use “could impact dozens of other flights and on-time performance, causing lost revenue and logistical problems,” according to a former Northwest Airlines general manager at the Dayton International Airport.

Airline Drug Testing Improvement Depends on Each Airline

With the latest scandal about a passenger who was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines plane, potential travelers are scrutinizing every airline’s safety protocol before choosing their flight.

The pressure may be weighing in for airlines to step up their precautions. The FAA has already stated that synthetic opioids are being considered as an addition to the DOT’s drug panel, but commercial airlines are largely in control of whether they conduct additional drug screening and how frequent these tests will be.

NBC Boston asked several major airline companies if they test for synthetic opioids like fentanyl and OxyContin, but the results came back mostly negative. Southwest, Virgin, and JetBlue said they did not test for these drugs while Delta, American, and United did not respond. Spirit Airlines curved the question by stating they were willing to cooperate with FAA regulations.

As of now, the main line of defense the FAA has for screening pilots’ substance use is promoting a whistleblower program, in which cabin crew members, pilots, and even passengers are encouraged to report suspected intoxication of a pilot or another crew member. So if anyone has concerns, they are allowed to speak up and avoid flying the friendly skies in fear.

Need Help? Start Your Recovery at Pathway to Hope

Whether you’re a pilot or a passenger, addiction can take you to an unwanted destination. If you, or a loved one, are struggling with addiction, then call one of our treatment specialists at Pathway to Hope at (844) 311-5781. Our 24-hour helpline provides call assistance to anyone who would like to learn more about addiction treatment, detox services, and how to fund their drug treatment plans. It’s time to spread your wings and fly to recovery.