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While use of ecstasy (or MDMA) among adolescents aged 12 to 17 has declined in recent years, use of the drug remains steady among adults.1,2 

Ecstasy use in 2014 was highest among adults aged 18 to 25 – where past month use was estimated at 0.8% of this population.2

Ecstasy initially became popular in the nightclub scene, but use has since spread to a broader range of people.3

This widespread ecstasy use has persisted over recent years.

Over half a million adults surveyed in 2014 were current ecstasy users.2 This is an alarming number, given ecstasy’s high potential for addiction and range of harmful health effects.

What Is Ecstasy?

Night club
Ecstasy is the common name for MDMA – or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine – a synthetic drug that causes changes in mood and awareness.3 Ecstasy is a unique modified amphetamine, with an effect profile that overlaps with those of both stimulants and hallucinogens.

The drug is typically taken for eliciting feelings of pleasure and its ability to heighten emotional and sensory experiences.

While some forms of MDMA have developed a reputation for being “pure” or otherwise relatively safe, it remains classified as a Schedule I drug because of:

  1. Its high risk for leading to drug abuse.
  2. Its high risk for causing harmful health effects.

Both of these risks are possible even after consuming the drug only once.4

How is MDMA Abused?

Ecstasy and other drugs
The drug is most often taken in pill or capsule form orally – though some may crush the pills and snort them. Many take the drug in combination with other substances frequently consumed in a club or party setting including methamphetamine, ketamine, marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs.

Ecstasy is anything but pure. Chemical analyses of the street drug consistently reveal a large number of dangerous additive chemicals and other adulterant drugs.

Research has found a handful of harmful ingredients – such as amphetamines, cocaine and PCP – in much of the ecstasy used today.5 Ecstasy manufacturers often substitute ecstasy with other stimulant drugs – such as the synthetic cathinones found in bath salts – and sell it as MDMA.

Ecstasy Statistics Overview

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health tracks trends in drug use among various populations in the United States using different indicators.

In 2014, the survey found that6:

  • Nearly 7% of those aged 12 and older had used ecstasy at least once in their lifetime.
  • Nearly 1% of the same population had used it within the past year.
  • About 0.2% had used ecstasy within the past month.

Ecstasy use has remained relatively steady in the general population since 2009, with a gradual decline among adolescents.1,7 In 2013, 751,000 persons aged 12 or older reported using ecstasy for the first time.7

Age-specific Ecstasy Statistics

Findings within specific age groups also revealed some interesting snapshots of the U.S. population’s current use of ecstasy.

Ecstasy Use Among Adolescents (Ages 12-17)

“Adolescents” were defined by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health as individuals between the ages of 12 to 17. In 2014, it was found that6:

  • About 1.2% of adolescents had taken ecstasy at least once in their lives.
  • An estimated 0.7% of adolescents reported taking ecstasy in the past year.
  • Roughly 0.2% of adolescents reported using ecstasy in the previous month.

Ecstasy Use Among Young Adults (Ages 18-25)

“Young adults” between the ages of 18 and 25 made up the largest percentage of current ecstasy users. Statistics from 2014 revealed that6:

  • An estimated 12% of young adults reported using ecstasy at least once in their lifetime.
  • About 3.5% reported using the drug in the previous year.
  • Nearly 1% were current ecstasy users, having used as recently as within the past month.

Ecstasy Use Among Adults (Ages 26+)

In that same year, findings on ecstasy use among adults showed that6:

  • Roughly 6.4% of adults aged 26 or older reported using ecstasy at least once in their lifetime.
  • About 0.5% of adults reported using within the past year.
  • About 0.1% of adults in the same survey reported being current users.

Emergency Room Visits

In 2011, an estimated 22,498 emergency department (ED) visits involved ecstasy use – with the majority of ED visits occurring among individuals aged 18 to 29.8 These ED visits involving ecstasy have more than doubled since 2004. Males represented nearly 70% of ED visits.

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Research acknowledges the potential for developing a dependence and addiction to ecstasy – but suggests that dependence may be less likely to occur with ecstasy than with other drugs such as cocaine.3

However, there is evidence to suggest that a minority of ecstasy users do become concerned enough about their drug use to seek treatment.9 And many of these ecstasy users seeking addiction services also have a tendency to use other drugs as well – making their treatment-seeking behaviors just that much more important to their recovery from drug use.10

Who Is Using Ecstasy?

An in-depth study of ecstasy users in 2008 revealed the majority of users to be11:

  • White (73% of users).
  • Male (65% of users).
  • Non-Hispanic.
  • Between the ages of 18 and 25.

The majority of users were also employed college graduates living in large metro areas with an annual family income under $40,000.

Can Ecstasy Kill You?

Woman on ecstasy at party
Ecstasy can cause problems with the body’s ability to regulate temperature – especially when used in an active, hot setting such as a dance, party or concert. This sharp increase in body temperature can cause organ failure and even death.5

In the United States, fatality reports in recent years have tended to cluster at events such as raves and electronic dance music festivals.12

One study estimates an average of 50 drug-related deaths per year involving ecstasy.13 However, this is likely an underestimate, as ecstasy can cause severe health effects that are more likely to be listed as the primary cause of death.

Fatalities caused exclusively by ecstasy use are not routinely reported. But clinical evidence suggests severe ecstasy-related illness includes symptoms such as12:

  1. Hyperthermia (high temperatures).
  2. Metabolic disturbances.
  3. Seizure.
  4. Hemorrhagic stroke.
  5. Brain swelling.

Most Common Cause of Ecstasy Deaths

Hyperthermia and hyponatremia (low sodium) are the most commonly reported immediate causes of death related to ecstasy.13 There have also been reports of “ecstasy-induced depression,” resulting in suicide and deaths due to accidents while under the influence of ecstasy.10

Deaths have also occurred from using ecstasy together with additional substances – making it more difficult to accurately estimate which deaths have been ecstasy-related.13

Effects of MDMA

Effects from taking ecstasy may include3:
DESCRIPTION GOES HERE

  • Euphoria.
  • Increased energy.
  • Distorted perception.
  • Nausea.
  • Muscle cramping.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Chills.
  • Involuntary teeth clenching.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Depression.
  • Dangerously high body temperature, potentially leading to:
    • Liver failure.
    • Rhabdomyolysis (skeletal muscle breakdown).
    • Kidney failure.
    • Death.

Effects can last between 3 and 6 hours, prompting some users to take a second dose as the effects from the first dose begin to fade. However, users may experience irritability, anxiety, aggression and memory problems for as much as a week following moderate use of the drug.

How Does Ecstasy Affect the Brain?

Ecstasy primarily increases the activity of three brain chemicals3:

  1. Dopamine causes a surge in euphoria and increased energy and activity.
  2. Norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure.
  3. Serotonin also triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust – which is likely the cause of the emotional closeness and elevated mood experienced by ecstasy users.

Finding a Treatment Facility for Ecstasy Abuse

When you’re ready to start looking at your options for getting out of a lifestyle of ecstasy abuse, it will be helpful for you to understand your three basic treatment options:

  • Luxury rehab facilities will offer you a range of luxurious amenities in addition to residential drug abuse treatment.
  • Executive rehab facilities will provide you with privacy and similarly top quality amenities and substance abuse treatment as luxury facilities – only they will also allow busy professionals to keep an active involvement in the workplace throughout recovery.
  • Standard facilities offer both inpatient (or residential) and outpatient drug abuse treatment. While you will not have the same caliber of amenities as you would in either luxury or executive facilities, you will receive your treatment at lower, more affordable costs.

Because of its potential for addiction and dependence, it is important to get treatment in a top private addiction treatment facility early on before serious health problems occur. Although there are no treatments specifically created to treat Ecstasy addiction, behavioral therapies are helpful. These therapies are used to combat other drug addictions. They serve to educate drug users about their addiction and help them change their ways of thinking regarding drug use. They also learn coping skills and find new ways to deal with stress so they do not have to resort to drugs to relax.

Recovery groups, such as 12-step programs, are also effective in helping former drug users maintain sobriety in the long term. They also serve as a way for recovering addicts to maintain fellowship with others in the same situation. There are no medications currently available on the market to treat Ecstasy addiction, although that could change in the future, especially if the rates of use and dependence continue to increase.

*Use of Ecstasy With Other Drugs

Many people who use Ecstasy rarely use it alone. It is often combined with other drugs, including:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Viagra
  • Ketamine

Learn More and Get the Help You Need

Is ecstasy abuse an issue for you or someone you love? Are you ready to learn more about the types of treatment that will help you see life-changing results? Call us at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? to speak to someone who can answer your questions and walk you through your options.

Sources

  1. Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., Miech, R.A., Bachman J.G. & Schulenberg, J.E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
  2. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50).
  3. DrugFacts: MDMA (ecstasy/molly). (2016). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  4. Ecstasy health issues. (2016). Denver District Attorney’s Office.
  5. MDMA (ecstasy or molly). (2016). National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens.
  6. MDMA (ecstasy/molly): brief description. (2013). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760, DAWN Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
  9. Degenhardt, L., Bruno, R., Topp, L. Is ecstasy a drug of dependence? (2010) Drug Alcohol Depend., 107(1), 1-10.
  10. Kalant, H. The pharmacology and toxicology of “ecstasy” (MDMA) and related drugs. (2001). CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 165(7), 917-928.
  11. Wu, L., Ringwalt, C.L., Mannelli, P., Patkar, A.A. (2008). Hallucinogen use disorders among adult users of MDMA and other hallucinogens. The American Journal on Addictions / American Academy of Psychiatrists in Alcoholism and Addictions, 17(5), 354-363.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Ecstasy Overdoses at a New Year’s Eve Rave – Los Angeles, California, 2010. MMWR, 59: 677-681.
  13. Rogers, G., Elston, J., Garside, R., Roome, C., Taylor, R., Younger, P., et al. (2009). The harmful health effects of recreational ecstasy: a systematic review of observational evidence. Health Technol Assess, 13(6), iii-iv, ix-xii, 1-315.