Ecstasy is the street name for a version of MDMA, or 3,4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. It is an illegal, synthetic drug classified as a stimulant with potentially hallucinogenic properties. Molly is another name for MDMA. Both ecstasy and molly are made from MDMA, but ecstasy is used to describe a designer version in pill or tablet form, while molly is used for the white powder or crystal-like substance.

Ecstasy was originally developed by Merck pharmaceutical company in 1912. In its original form, it was known as “MDMA.” It was used in 1953 by the US Army in psychological warfare tests, and then resurfaced in the 1960s as a psychotherapy medication to “lower inhibitions.”1 It wasn’t until the 1970s that MDMA started being used as a party drug.

By the early 1980s, MDMA was being promoted as “the hottest thing in the continuing search for happiness through chemistry,” and the “in drug” for many weekend parties. Still legal in 1984, MDMA was being sold under the brand name “Ecstasy,” but by 1985, the drug had been banned due to safety concerns.

Since the late 1980s, Ecstasy has become an embracive “marketing” term for drug dealers selling “Ecstasy-type” drugs that may, in fact, contain very little or no MDMA at all. And while MDMA itself can produce harmful effects, what is called Ecstasy today can contain a wide mixture of substances—from LSD, cocaine, heroin, amphetamine and methamphetamine, to rat poison, caffeine, dog deworming substances, etc. Despite the cute logos dealers put on the pills, this is what makes Ecstasy particularly dangerous; a user never really knows what he is taking. The dangers are increased when users increase the dose seeking a previous high, not knowing they may be taking an entirely different combination of drugs.

Ecstasy most commonly comes in pill form but can also be injected and taken in other ways. Liquid Ecstasy is actually GHB, a nervous system depressant—a substance that can also be found in drain cleaner, floor stripper and degreasing solvents.

 

What are the effects of ecstasy

The effects of any drug (including ecstasy) vary from person to person. How ecstasy affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken around the same time. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken.

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug. 

Immediate effects

The effects of ecstasy may start to be felt within 20 minutes to 1 hour after an ecstasy pill has been swallowed and may last for approximately 6 hours.

Low to moderate doses

Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking ecstasy include:

  • increased confidence and energy
  • lowered inhibitions
  • feelings of wellbeing
  • feelings of closeness to others
  • empathy
  • anxiety
  • paranoia, aggression and psychosis
  • poor muscle control and unsteadiness
  • muscle aches and stiffness
  • increased blood pressure & heart rate
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • increased body temperature
  • sweating
  • skin tingles
  • dilated pupils
  • heightened sensations (sight, hearing, touch)
  • jaw clenching
  • teeth grinding.

Higher doses

A high dose of ecstasy can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more ecstasy than their body can cope with. The effects can include:

  • floating sensations
  • vomiting
  • high body temperature
  • high blood pressure
  • increased heartbeat
  • hallucinations
  • irrational or bizarre behaviour
  • convulsions (fits).

Ecstasy has also been linked to several deaths through heart attack and brain haemorrhage.

Coming down

After using ecstasy, people may experience a “coming down” phase and may experience some of the following:

  • physical exhaustion
  • depression and irritability
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • difficulty concentrating.

These effects of coming down usually begin the day after taking ecstasy and can last for several days.

 

Long-term effects

There is some evidence that ecstasy can cause damage to some parts of the brain and that regular, heavy use can lead to depression.

A person taking ecstasy regularly may find that they are not eating or sleeping enough and are neglecting their health. They may become “run down”, have reduced energy levels and be more at risk for colds, flu and infections.

Other effects of ecstasy use

Social problems

All areas of a person’s life can be affected by drug use.

  • Disagreements and frustration over drug use can cause family arguments and affect personal relationships.
  • Legal and health problems can also add to the strain on personal, financial and work relationships.

Taking ecstasy with other drugs

The chances of an overdose are increased if ecstasy is taken with other stimulant drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine. This can increase effects such as heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety.

Taking ecstasy with benzodiazepines to help with the symptoms of the “comedown” can lead to a cycle of dependence on both drugs.

Using ecstasy and drinking alcohol at the same time can lead to dehydration and overheating, and can also increase the negative effects of comedown.

Taking ecstasy while on some antidepressant medication can lead to some unpleasant effects such as increased heart rate, loss of coordination, nausea and vomiting. 

Driving

It is dangerous to drive after using ecstasy. The effects of ecstasy, such as over-confidence and poor muscle control, can affect driving ability. People with over-confidence may take more risks when driving which increases the chances of an accident.

The symptoms of coming down and withdrawal can also affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

Read more about the effects of ecstasy on driving.

Ecstasy use in the workplace

Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employees have a responsibility to make sure they look after their own and their co-workers’ safety.

The effects of ecstasy such as over-confidence and poor muscle control can affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively. The symptoms of coming down and withdrawal can also affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively.

For more information, please click on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s (previously Australian Drug Foundation) logo below.