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Ecstasy

Also known as: E’s | Pills | Xtc | Eccies | Bickies | Pingers

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What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy is the name given to methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). MDMA is a derivative of the compounds methamphetamine and amphetamine. Ecstasy has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Ecstasy can cause stimulation similar to amphetamines, and in higher doses they can have hallucinogenic type effects.

Ecstasy does not always contain just MDMA. Ecstasy pills are often mixed with a variety of other substances including aspirin, caffeine and ketamine (a veterinary anaesthetic agent). Sometimes drugs containing no MDMA are sold as ecstasy. This makes it difficult for people to know what they are taking.

 

Where does ecstasy come from? 

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) was first synthesised by Merck Pharmaceuticals  in 1912. It was originally developed as an appetite suppressant, although it was never actually used for this purpose. In the 1970s, MDMA was used in American therapy classes to enhance communication. Ecstasy became available in Australia in the mid-1980s, and became an illegal drug in 1987.

How is ecstasy used?

Ecstasy comes in tablet, capsule, crystal and powder form and is usually swallowed or snorted. The effects become apparent within 1 hour and last for up to six hours. The hangover effects may last for up to 24 hours. 

How many people use ecstasy?

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 reported that 3.2% of Western Australians aged 14 years and older had used ecstasy in the previous 12 months.

Health effects and risk

The effects of ecstasy will vary depending on:

  • the person– mood, physical size, health, gender, previous experience with ecstasy, expectations of the drug, personality, whether the person has had food and whether other drugs have been taken.
  • the drug – the amount used, its purity, how often it is used, and how it is used.
  • the place – whether the person is using with friends, on his/her own, in a social setting or at home, at work or before driving.

Short-term effects

  • Enlarged pupils, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, dry mouth
  • Reduced appetite, nausea
  • Sweating, hot and cold flushes
  • Increased energy, alertness and feeling of wellbeing
  • Increased confidence and talkativeness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Poor concentration and anxiety
  • Increased body temperature, pulse rate and blood pressure

Short-term effects of high-doses

  • Irrational behaviour and agitation
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive thirst and urinary retention
  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle meltdown)
  • Hyperthermia (heat stroke)

Long-term effects

  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration
  • Irritability
  • Learning, judgement and memory problems
  • Brain scarring

Watch our interview with Steve Allsop for more information on the effects of ecstasy.

Ecstasy and Body Temperature

Ecstasy can disrupt body temperature regulation. Acute ecstasy-related toxicity can cause heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia (body temperature above 38o C) which can lead to serious conditions such as muscle meltdown or rhabdomyolysis, disseminated intravascular coagulation (affecting the blood's ability to clot and stop bleeding), liver damage and other conditions.  A combination of prolonged physical activity, high outdoor temperature, insufficient fluid replacement and MDMA can affect temperature regulation among users. For more information on overheating visit the Staying Safe section.

Disseminated intravascular coagulation is where the blood’s ability to clot and stop bleeding is compromised. This could present as gastrointestinal bleeding, cerebral haemorrhage and bleeding from other parts of the body.

Ecstasy and Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis also known as muscle meltdown, occurs when skeletal muscle breaks down and releases myoglobin. Myoglobin is eliminated in the kidneys. The greater the degree of rhabdomyolysis, the greater the amount of myoglobin released, which can lead to kidney failure.

Ecstasy and Overhydration

Overhydration is an excess of water in the body and an imbalance of fluids. Overhydration can be dangerous and can lead to swelling of the brain cells and disturbances in water and salt balance which can lead to disorientation, convulsions, coma and even death. Immediate signs of overhydration include nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps. For information on how to prevent overhydration visit visit the Staying Safe section.

Ecstasy and the Brain

Ecstasy can affect your brain long after the night you take it. Emerging evidence has suggested that ecstasy may cause problems to the brain, especially with memory, judgement, thinking and mood being affected.  

Watch our interview with Professor Daniel Fatovich to learn about his research on the effect of ecstasy on the brain.

Ecstasy and Breastfeeding

Most drugs cross the placenta, and therefore have some effect on the unborn child. There is only limited research on the specific effects of using ecstasy during pregnancy. However, there is potential to harm the child, especially if ecstasy is combined with other drugs. It is possible that there is an increased risk in the chance of miscarriage from using ecstasy. Injecting ecstasy also increases the risk of HIV infection and other infections for both the mother and the baby.

If a mother is using ecstasy while breastfeeding the drug may present in her milk, which could have adverse effects on the baby.

It is recommended that women check with their doctor (or other health professional) if they are using or planning to use drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding, including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

Method of Use

There are also dangers associated with the method of use. Snorting can produce burns and sores on the membrane that lines the interior of the nose. Injecting ecstasy can result in major damage to the body’s organs, inflamed and blocked blood vessels, abscesses and blood poisoning. Bacterial infections can also occur which may damage the heart valves, cause vein collapse, infection at injection site, bruising or more serious injuries if users inject into an artery or tissue.

Ecstasy and mental health

Ecstasy use can cause a range of mental health issues. The effects will vary depending on:

  • the person – mood, physical size, health, gender, previous experience with ecstasy, expectations of the drug, personality, whether the person has had food and whether other drugs have been taken.
  • the drug – the amount used, its purity, how often it is used, and whether it is smoked, swallowed, snorted or injected.
  • the place – whether the person is using with friends, on his/her own, in a social setting or at home, at work or before driving.

Short-term effects

  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Psychosis

Long-term effects

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Periods of psychosis

Ecstasy and other drugs

Using more than one drug at a time can have unpredictable and dangerous effects. Ecstasy users sometimes take other drugs such as tranquillisers and alcohol to cope with some of the undesirable effects experienced after using ecstasy. They may also use ecstasy in conjunction with other drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines and LSD.

Using more than one drug increases the risk of complications and serious side-effects, and can lead to a variety of serious physical and psychological problems. For example, using ecstasy with other drugs that dehydrate the body, such as amphetamines and alcohol, can increase the problems associated with dehydration.

If ecstasy is combined with depressant drugs like alcohol, users may not feel the effects of the depressant drug straight away due to the masking effect that occurs. For example, if ecstasy is used with alcohol, Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) still goes up and motor skills such as coordination and reflexes are still impaired.

Combining ecstasy with other stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine can greatly increase the negative side effects of both drugs. The effects can be greatly exaggerated and unpredictable and may be similar to taking a very large dose of stimulant drugs.

One of the major risks associated with manufacturing illicit drugs is that you won’t know what is in them, or the toxicity of the active substances. As part of the manufacturing process, dangerous by products can also be formed of unknown toxicity. Compounds used to manufacture the drug can cause them to be converted to other unknown compounds of unknown toxicity. This can result in accidentally mixing drugs and serious side effects.

Impact on your life

Ecstasy use can impact on your life in many ways. It can lead to relationship, financial and legal problems.

Ecstasy and relationship problems

Drug use can lead to social and emotional problems and can affect relationships with family and friends. When people are under the influence of a drug, changes can occur in their behaviour depending on how they feel (e.g. euphoric, sick, energetic anxious, depressed or moody) which can lead to problems with friends and family.

Ecstasy and financial problems

The street price of ecstasy changes depending on availability and market trends. The cost of purchasing ecstasy can lead to financial problems for both occasional and regular users.

Ecstasy and the law

In Western Australia, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, it is illegal to use, possess, manufacture or supply ecstasy.

Offences under this Act carry heavy fines and/or prison sentences.  Penalties vary depending on the offence:

  • Possession offences: up to $2,000 in fines and/or two years in prison.
  • Supply offences: up to $100,000 in fines and/or 25 years in prison.

A person convicted of a drug offence can receive a criminal record, which can lead to difficulties in getting a job, health insurance, credit or visas for overseas travel.

Ecstasy and driving

In Western Australia, it is against the law for anyone to drive with the presence of an illicit drug prescribed within the Road Traffic Act 1974, or impaired by a drug.

It is dangerous to drive under the influence of ecstasy, as coordination and the ability to judge speed and distance can be impaired. It is also dangerous to drive before or after the ecstasy has taken affect. The user cannot predict when the ecstasy will take affect or if residual effects will impact on driving ability.

See the Testing section for information on roadside drug testing. 

Quitting options

People decide to quit using ecstasy for a lot of reasons including it is harming their physical and/or mental health and wellbeing, their relationships with friends and others they care about, or because they are starting new employment and may be drug tested.

Thinking about quitting your ecstasy use? Worried you may struggle? You are not alone. Help is only a phone call away.

You can call a qualified alcohol and other drug counsellor at the Alcohol and Drug Support Line. The counsellors can assist in planning your quit attempt, and talk with you about the options available to assist you. You can call them 24/7 on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024 (country callers).

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