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Professional News
While Ecstasy Gains Popularity, Troubling Side-Effect Data Emerge
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 2 page 13-13

While the use of most illicit drugs is declining or holding steady among the nation’s teenagers (see story above), the so called "club drug" referred to by the street name "Ecstasy" is soaring in popularity. It is most often used, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), by young adults and adolescents at clubs, raves, and rock concerts.

Ecstasy, also known as "XTC," "X," "clarity," "lover’s speed," and "Adam" on the street, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with both amphetamine and hallucinogenic properties. Its chemical name, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is usually abbreviated as MDMA. The drug is similar to two other synthetic amphetamine-like drugs known to cause brain damage, methamphetamine and MDA, MDMA’s parent chemical.

First synthesized and patented in the early 1900s by the pharmaceutical industry, MDMA is usually taken orally as a tablet or capsule.

Its effects, which last acutely for approximately three to six hours, include euphoria, increased libido, increased energy, lack of inhibitions, and other side effects that are similar to those seen with other stimulants. These side effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movements, faintness, and chills or excessive sweating. In high doses it may lead to extremely elevated body temperature, dehydration, seizures, and ultimately cardiovascular and renal failure leading to coma and death.

In lower doses, perhaps its most dangerous long-term actions are its psychoactive effects. Research has shown that it may cause profound confusion and memory loss, depression, anxiety, paranoia, mania, sleep disturbances, and psychotic episodes, weeks and even months after it has been used.

The extreme variety of MDMA’s psychotropic effects are thought to be related to its neurotoxicity. Chronic use of MDMA has been found to produce long-term, most likely permanent, damage to serotonergic neurons in the brains of both animals and humans. It is probably this interaction with the serotonin system that yields the drug’s reported effects of heightened sexual experience, tranquility, and conviviality. Preliminary research, supported by NIDA, has shown that MDMA also causes degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the brain.

"The recent increases in MDMA use are certainly of great concern," said Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., director of NIDA. "Our research shows that Ecstasy is a very dangerous drug; it is not a fun drug." ▪

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