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Updated on August 12, 2021

MDMA (Molly/Ecstasy): Effects on the Body

What is MDMA (Molly/Ecstacy)?

MDMA is short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is also commonly called Molly or Ecstasy. Ecstasy is an illegal substance typically made in a laboratory. It is a synthetic drug that causes a high feeling similar to amphetamine stimulants. 

Ecstasy gained popularity in nightclub scenes and at music concerts/festivals. However, nowadays, it is used by a broader range of people on different occasions. It produces euphoria for a short period and also distorts sensory perceptions. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified MDMA as a Schedule I substance on July 1, 1985.2 This means the United States government has marked it as an illegal drug that has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. 

Because drugs like MDMA are not regulated, you will hardly find ‘pure MDMA.’ This is because even the supposedly pure MDMA contains other substances such as cocaine, ketamine, and ephedrine.

Taking ecstasy can cause unpleasant effects. Ecstasy users can experience extreme nausea, unstable body temperature, high blood pressure, increase in heart rate, kidney failure, and even death due to drug use.5

What Does Ecstacy Look Like? How Does the Drug Work?

Ecstasy can be found in both liquid and powder form. Molly is slang for ‘molecular’ and refers to the crystalline powder form of this drug. Ecstasy users take the drug orally as a tablet, pill, or capsule. 

Ecstasy powder typically looks like grey or white crystals. On the other hand, ecstasy tablets come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Its appearance differs because various ingredients are used to bind the powder into a tablet or pill form.6 This is one of the greatest risks of drug-taking as you may never really know what a particular drug contains.

Just like other substances of use, ecstasy use induces a state of euphoria. This synthetic drug affects the brain by increasing the activity of three or more neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin).

Serotonin plays a key role in hallucinogenic drugs. This is why ecstasy use causes increased appreciation of light shows and high sensitivity to music. Oxytocin tends to produce prosocial effects.

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Why Do People Take Ecstasy?

Ecstasy use causes a feeling of euphoria, and that is the major reason why people take ecstasy. MDMA use has also been linked to heightened sensory perception. 

The effects of ecstasy include intensifying the desire to bond and connect. This is why some young adults commonly use ecstasy in social settings like clubs, concerts, and festivals. Substance use tends to induce emotional closeness and puts people in the mood to dance, talk, and touch.4

How Does Ecstasy Affect Your Body?

Just like every other drug, the effects of ecstasy vary from person to person. Taking ecstasy regularly affects individuals depending on weight, size, health status, and whether the person is used to taking ecstasy. 

Below are the effects of ecstasy on physical health, behavior, psychology, and social life.

Physical (Health) Effects

Ecstasy can cause several health effects that can be life-threatening, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Convulsions
  • Floating sensations
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Heart attack
  • Brain hemorrhage

Psychological Effects

MDMA affects psychology and can cause the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Changes in perception

Behavioral Effects

Ecstasy use can affect a person’s behavior in the following ways:

  • Irrational or bizarre behavior
  • Talking too fast or rambling
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychosocial Effects

Ecstasy addiction can affect the social aspects of an individual’s life. Some psychological effects of MDMA use include: 

  • Increased sociability and energy
  • Disagreements
  • Strained relationships
  • Legal problems

How Long Do the Effects Last?

The effects of ecstasy can be immediate or long-term. The immediate effects of MDMA (which is the feeling of euphoria and heightened sensations) can be felt within 20 minutes to 1 hour of drug administration. The effect can last for up to six hours.1

A study found that MDMA effects peak within 1 to 2 hours of drug administration and decrease after about 4 to 6 hours of drug intake.3

When taken regularly and in higher doses, it can cause long-term effects, which can last for long periods even after the user has stopped taking the drug. Long-term negative effects of the drug include anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

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How Long Does Ecstacy Stay in Your System (Detection Time)?

Ecstasy can be detected in the system for up to 90 days. MDMA detection time will depend on the type of test taken. A person’s unique physical attributes and frequency of drug use can also affect how long it is detectable.

  • Urine: detectable for up to four days
  • Blood: detectable for about two days
  • Saliva: detectable for up to two days
  • Hair: detectable for up to 90 days

What are the Long-Term Effects & Risks of Ecstacy?

Ecstasy works by boosting the activity of three brain chemicals — serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Because it can stimulate brain chemicals, ecstasy has long-term effects and risks associated with its use, such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased sexual arousal
  • Impaired ability to concentrate
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased impulsiveness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Aggressiveness
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Convulsions
  • Death

Signs & Symptoms of Stimulant Use Disorder

Drug use can affect both physical and mental health. Just like other drugs that affect sensory perception, ecstasy can be addictive. Symptoms of ecstasy use are similar to that of other stimulants.

Signs and symptoms of stimulant use disorder include:

  • Noticeable weight loss (eating less)
  • Sudden change in behavior
  • Floating sensations
  • Increased energy
  • Looking untidy
  • Always getting in trouble at school or work
  • Having money problems and always going into debt
  • Talking faster or rambling
  • Dilated pupils
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Sleep problems
  • Spending time with friends that show similar signs
  • Violent behavior and getting into legal trouble

Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorder

If you notice your loved one showing the warning signs of a stimulant use disorder, advise them to find a treatment program.

Treatment for stimulant use disorder will depend on factors like:

  • The type of substance used
  • The quantity of substance used
  • The method of use

Addiction treatment involves proper diagnosis by a medical professional. Addiction treatment commonly includes behavioral interventions (such as contingency management, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and acupuncture) and pharmaceutical interventions (such as antidepressants and other medications).7

Treatment for stimulant use disorder can occur in different settings (inpatient or outpatient) and the recovery journey will involve various therapeutic approaches. Support groups are also essential in maintaining long-term sobriety.

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Resources

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Australian Drug Foundation. “Ecstasy and the Effects on the Body.” myDr. 30 January 2019

Climko, RP et al. “Ecstasy: A Review of MDMA and MDA.”International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, Vol. 16,4 (1986): 359-72. DOI: 10.2190/dcrp-u22m-aumd-d84h.

de la Torre R, et al. “Pharmacology of MDMA in Humans.” Ann N Y Acad Sci. Vol. 914, (2000): 225-37. DOI: 10.1111/j,1749-6632.2000.tb05199.x.

“How Will MDMA Make Me Feel?” Drug Policy Alliance.

MDMA (Molly and Ecstasy).” Phoenix House.

Meyer, JS. “3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): Current Perspectives.” Subst Abuse Rehabil. Vol. 4, (2013): 83-99. DOI: 10.2147/SAR.S37258.

Ronsley, Claire. “Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorder: A Systematic Review of Reviews.” PLoS ONE, Vol. 15,6 (2020). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234809.

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