How safe are MDMA and Ecstasy? | Stepaway Blog
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How safe are MDMA and Ecstasy?

Although a lot of information is available there is little regard of the real impact of substance abuse on our lives. We often get questions to do with identifying what drugs are “bad” or “worse for you” and this is a true indication of how mislead our society truly is.

Much of modern media trivialises the harmful effects of drugs and thereby contributes to an environment where drug abuse is condoned and even encouraged.

And the use of a drug is directly related to how safe the drug is perceived to be.

At Step Away treatment centre we believe it is our responsibility to educate people the best we can outside of our centre through our monthly informative newsletters and social media outreach.

In a previous article we discussed Marijuana and how it is regularly seen in only a more positive/less negative light and by many as a “soft drug”. We exposed how underestimated it is as a drug and argued valid research done on the negative effects it can have on even casual users.

In this article we will be discussing two other drugs which are very popular amongst party-goers.

Ecstasy or the purer version of it called MDMA, (3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) have been around for many years. Both substances are typically taken orally, in a tablet or capsule form, and their effects usually last for approximately 4 to 6 hours.

Both of these illegal substances are favoured amongst youth because their effect leads to irresistible feelings of euphoria, “deep” emotional understanding or compassion known as “Entactogenesis” - meaning to touch within, and pleasing increased levels of energy.

Although the positive effects of these substances are the reason why the drug is taken, users may also experience a few not so rewarding effects.

Users may suffer from the following symptoms and side-effects:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure, Heart Arrythmia
  • Increased body temperature including hyperthermia
  • Increased perspiration and sweating, and the “chills”
  • Pupil dilation, Blurred vision and Nystagmus (rapid involuntary eye movements and jittering)
  • Trismus (difficulty opening the mouth widely) and bruxism (grinding and clenching of the teeth)
  • Difficulty sleeping , paranoia and depression
  • Loss of appetite, Nausea and emesis (Vomiting)
  • Urinary retention and kidney failure
  • In males, possible erectile dysfunction

Involuntary muscular activity and muscular tension are common, causing muscle twitching and cramps. Most commonly known side effects of Ecstasy and MDMA use are the affects it has on the lower face muscles leading to jaw clenching and teeth grinding.

This 'gurning' effect has long been a joke. The problem is users often don't realise that throughout the night they change and morph into wide-eyed jaw clenching, instead they remain blissfully unaware because both these substances have a paradoxical relaxation effect, which means that users are unaware of what is happening to their bodies.

This paradoxical relaxation effect also makes physical activity seem easier, with pain and fatigue often going unnoticed. This accounts for the drug being used to sustain the user for long periods of dancing.

Compared to the especially strong stimulant Methamphetamine which releases more dopamine into an individual’s central nervous system, Ecstasy and MDMA abuse cause greater serotonin release and slightly lesser dopamine release.

Both Ecstasy and MDMA are synthetic meaning they are completely man-made. After ingesting either one of them there is a release of neuroactive compounds such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine into an individual’s central nervous system, resulting in an increase in neurotransmitter activity.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in the regulation of an individual’s moods, sleep patterns, pain, appetite, and various other behaviours.

High levels of serotonin lead to a cheerful disposition and the ability to withstand everyday stress. The sudden flooding of serotonin to the CNS caused by Ecstasy and MDMA produce the known short lived mood elevating effects felt by its users.

However, even though the quick buzz of these happy feelings might sound and feel great at the time there is a very real and very negative consequence.

By releasing large amounts of serotonin into the CNS the substance abuser’s levels become significantly depleted once the drug has worn off, and they therefore lack the sufficient amount of the important neurotransmitter for quite some time thereafter.

This leaves users vulnerable to stress, feelings of depression and often only days later feeling what is known as a “downer”.  Due to the flooding of serotonin in an individual’s brains caused by these substances the fatality risk factor for individuals who suffer from depression and are prescribed anti-depressants is much higher.

This is because the combination serotonin generating substances such as an anti-depressant or Ecstasy/MDMA can easily induce a state of poisoning known as serotonin syndrome which can lead to lethal hyperthermia if it becomes too severe.

Depletion in serotonin has many negative outcomes, not only in moods and coping abilities but it helps the body to regulate and form blood clots. Serotonin is also released in response to food ingestion and aids in controlling the contractions that push food through the digestive tract. Changes in serotonin levels may contribute to irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

Studies have shown that some heavy Ecstasy and MDMA users experience long-lasting confusion and misperception, and often selective impairment of working memory and attention processes.

Memory impairments such as these have been associated with a decrease in serotonin metabolites or other markers of serotonin function. Imaging studies on users have also shown changes in brain activity in regions involved in cognition, emotion, as well as in motor function.

Besides the effects these substances could have on the user there is also an incredibly high chance that the individual taking them could fall victim to what is known as “drug cutting”, this is the process whereby dealers cut drugs with household detergents/ products or other drugs with a far greater harm factor to an individual in order to increase the amount which can be sold and inevitably their profits.

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