The Dangers and Risks of Ecstasy

Ecstasy drug in a skull form.

If you’ve had an ear to the ground on the recent drug news and its media coverage, you may have heard whisperings and suggestions that psychedelics, hallucinogens, and a few other designer drugs are supposedly “helpful” or beneficial for addressing certain mental health issues. This idea is likely riding on the train from Canada, where some doctors up there are experimenting with various psychedelics to determine if they might offer medicinal help. They will not offer medicinal help.

Michael Pollan, author of Change Your Mind, has traveled the country promoting both his book and the use of psychedelics for addressing mental struggles, behavioral health, depression, anxiety, mood changes, PTSD, etc. And for some reason, ecstasy has been clumped onto the crusade for psychedelics and hallucinogenics as being a “positive” or “beneficial” substance to take, with some even likening it to a medicine. This is a mistake.

The term “psychedelic” was invented by Humphry Osmond in the 1950s. Psychedelic, as a term, means, “To manifest the mind.” Dreams, meditation, breathing techniques, etc., there are lots of activities which are, in a way, psychedelic. But when a psychedelic drug is entered into the body, one loses control over the experience that they are having. And this is an experience that can become quite harmful to both the body and the mind.

Man having panic from drugs

Is Ecstasy a Psychedelic?

The first fly in the ointment of lotting ecstasy in with the crusade to legalize psychedelics and use them for medicinal purposes is that ecstasy is not really a psychedelic, to begin with. There has been a fair amount of debate on this, with some experts desiring to classify ecstasy as an “empathogen” (that which increases empathy) or as an “entactogen” (that which increases touching).

But the truth is, ecstasy does not produce the same phenomena that most psychedelics do. While it is certainly mind-altering, it does not create the vivid “trips” that are associated with most common psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin. So, when considering ecstasy as a drug, we should completely disconnect it from the psychedelic crusade, if for no other reason than the fact that it is not a psychedelic.

So What Is Ecstasy?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has quite a bit to say about ecstasy, also called MDMA (which is the abbreviation for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, the chemical sign and name for the drug). Ecstasy is a synthetic drug, wholly man-made, which stimulates the user and alters the mind. Ecstasy is considered an upper because it produces energizing effects for a short time.

One of the problems with ecstasy is that, because it is a wholly man-made drug, users never really know what they are getting when they take it. Ecstasy has been found to contain MDMA chemicals, yes, but it has also been found to contain methamphetamine, anesthetic ketamine, caffeine, diet drugs, heroin, cough suppressants, PCP, and even cocaine. Clearly, people who are consuming ecstasy tablets or powders are putting their trust and faith in their drug dealers, which is a poor choice, to say the least.

Most of the ecstasy in the United States comes either from Canada or from the Netherlands. Some of it comes from Mexico and other parts of Europe too. But very little ecstasy is made here in the United States. The drug is often sold at nightclubs and in downtown music and bar districts. Under no circumstance is consuming ecstasy a sensible or a wise thing to do.

What are the Effects of Taking Ecstasy?

Woman looking at ecstasy pill

When people consume ecstasy, they are liable to experience a range of different phenomena, none of them particularly therapeutic or conducive to resolving tense or difficult issues in their lives. Instead, ecstasy will deliver an intoxicating rush of energy within about fifteen minutes of taking it, that rush lasting for two to three hours or so. People often feel good while taking it, with varying degrees of euphoria and effusiveness coming along with that high.

But ecstasy is not all “fun and games,” just as no type of drug use is. When people take ecstasy, they risk a fatal overdose, as ecstasy can induce high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, loss of consciousness, hyperthermia, and even seizures. When people take ecstasy, the drug acts to reduce the body’s ability to regulate temperature. The result can be muscle breakdown, kidney failure, swelling of the brain, reduction in heart efficiency, etc.

And those are just the particularly harsh side-effects of taking ecstasy, the ones that tend to be present when one has a lethal overdose on the drug. There are also many other side effects of taking ecstasy, side effects like:

  • Jaw clenching
  • Detachment
  • Lack of appetite
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Joint stiffness
  • Restless legs
  • Muscle pain
  • Poor coordination
  • Lack of motor skills
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart damage
  • Impaired memory
  • Poor attention
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Inability to sleep well
  • Decreased cognitive function
Beat up woman.

There is also the plethora or excessive risk-taking that people participate in when they are under the influence of ecstasy. This is considerable. When people consume ecstasy, they are far more likely to engage in a dangerous and risky behavior, just as a result of consuming the drug.

For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that ecstasy users were statistically speaking more likely to engage in risky sexual encounters and behaviors. According to NIDA “MDMA use within the past 6 months is associated with initiating sex before age 14 and having two or more partners in the past 2 months. In addition, people who use heavily report more sexual risk-taking than those who use less often. People who use heavily are also more likely to have been tested for HIV, though they believe they are at low risk for contracting the disease.” [3]

Keeping Our Families Safe from Ecstasy

Clearly, ecstasy has no business being promoted as being helpful or beneficial for anything. Not by a long shot. The drug is dangerous and risky, and that’s all there is to it.

But how do we keep our family and friends from experimenting with the drug? It certainly is pushed on young people enough, and it is even becoming more common in adult party scenes as well.

Here are two strategies that we can employ:

  • Education. If you showed an ecstasy user this article, he would likely not know all of the information in it. He would not know about all of the risks, and he might be surprised as to the long list of side effects. This is because drug users do not usually learn about their drugs before they use them. But if they did know the truth about their drugs, it’s likely they would abstain. So getting the word out there and educating family members and loved ones about ecstasy and its risks is a big part of ecstasy prevention.
  • Another strategy is to simply pay more attention to who your family members are spending time with, and when. Spending lots of time together as a family, participating in shared activities with each other, and monitoring social activities with others can do a lot for preventing anyone within the family from falling in with the wrong crowd.
  • Communication and the social interchange of ideas and information can go very far in changing people’s mind and make decisions to lead more healthy lives.

Ecstasy is a risk and a danger and should never be considered for medicinal use. However, with the right tools and the right knowledge about it, we can prevent its use within our communities.


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP

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After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.