Ecstatic Over Ecstasy

– by Walt Mueller
©2001, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

Look up the word “ecstasy” in the dictionary and you’ll find that it’s “a state of overwhelming rapturous delight” and “intense bliss,” or “powerful emotion that lifts one out of oneself.” Ask teens about “ecstasy” and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you about a growing trend that’s got a growing number of young people looking to experience the dictionary definition through the use of a drug that is now running second to marijuana as the teenage recreational drug of choice.

Ecstasy (a.k.a. E, X, XTC, Love, Adam, Hug Drug, Bean, M, Roll, Clarity, Essence, MDMA) is a synthetic, psychoactive mind-altering drug made of the compound Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), which was accidentally discovered in 1912 by German scientists who were trying to develop a blood-vessel constrictor. MDMA is chemically related to amphetamines and the hallucinogen mescaline, and produces stimulant and psychedelic effects similar to each.

The drug was patented in 1914 by Merck and used as an appetite suppressant by soldiers during World War I. The drug was then tucked away until it was tested on animals as part of a series of mind-control experiments conducted by the CIA in the 1950’s.

During the 1970’s, therapists rediscovered MDMA and began to use it as a “miracle drug” that would get their patients to open up and release their emotions. Therapists touted MDMA’s benefits for use with patients who were depressed, anxious, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or who were experiencing rape-related trauma. Ecstasy became popular on the dance-club scene during the early 1980’s. This growing demand and abuse led the DEA to label Ecstasy a “Schedule I Controlled Substance” in 1985, outlawing its manufacture, sale, possession, and use in the United States.

Today, Ecstasy use is growing among adults, college students, and teens despite being outlawed everywhere in the world with the exception of the Netherlands. In the year ending September 30, 2000, U.S. Customs agents reported seizures of 9.3 million pills – up from 400,000 in 1997 (USA Today, 2/15/01). In 1999, Ecstasy use was reported by 2.7 percent of 8th graders, 6 percent of 10th graders, and 8 percent of our nation’s high school seniors (Monitoring the Future Survey, 1999). In just one short year, Ecstasy use among these groups has risen sharply – 4.2 percent of our 8th graders, 7.3 percent of our 10th graders, and 11 percent of our 12th graders report using Ecstasy at least once (Monitoring the Future Survey, 2000). A recent U.K. survey of 16-29 year-olds found that 9 percent had used Ecstasy. This number rose to 91 percent among those young people involved in the dance club scene (Canadian Medical Association Journal, 6/27/2000). The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that Ecstasy use has doubled among teens since 1995, with 1 in 10 teens reporting experimentation with the drug. Researcher Carrie Elk reports that several studies and reports from the DEA indicate that around 40 percent of today’s college students have been exposed to Ecstasy (MDMA: Useful Information for Health Professionals Involved in Drug Education Programs, Even the military is facing a growing problem with Ecstasy use among it’s forces. Drug tests performed by the Air Force, Navy, and Army indicate that usage is 12 times what it was two years ago (USA Today, 4/16/01).

Ecstasy is manufactured as a powder that typically comes in capsules or tablets that are taken orally. The pills are typically branded with icons (Playboy Bunnies, the Nike Swoosh, butterflies, lightning bolts, four leaf clovers, etc.) to identify the manufacturer. The drug can also be snorted, injected, and used in suppository form. Each pill costs about 20 cents to manufacture and they sell for anywhere between $20 and $40 on the street – a place where the drug is easily found and readily available.

Used in an average dose of about 120mg, Ecstasy takes effect between 30 and 45 minutes after ingestion and leads to a four to six hour high or “rolling.” Doses are often “piggy-backed” for a longer and more intense high.

How does Ecstasy work? The drug causes all the stored neurotransmitter, serotonin, to release at once and wash over the brain in extreme amounts. Serotonin is the brain-chemical that regulates mood, sleep, appetite and sex drive. As the Serotonin surges through the brain, the individual feels elation, a heightening of the senses, and increased energy. For a culture in pursuit of feeling good, Ecstasy is seen as a quick and easily accessible means to that end. Within 30 minutes of taking the pill, users describe feeling extremely peaceful, empathetic, energetic, clear-headed, friendly, and affectionate. Users also report feeling a desire to touch others as the drug facilitates interpersonal relations, increases esteem, decreases defensiveness, lowers sexual inhibitions, and elevates mood.

These effects are what make Ecstasy so popular among those who attend all-night dance parties known as “raves.” The rapids beats and high volume of continuous dance music, surreal visuals, light shows, and colorful costumes combine with Ecstasy in a blend that racers say enables them to move beyond normal relational inhibitions to an energetic experience of consciousness and community that is empowering. The “code” of the rave is known as “PLUR.” – a philosophy which dictates that each participant freely give and receive Peace, Love, Unity and Respect. One raver says, “I’m totally hooked on PLUR, that a scene is so positive and so loving. I have never felt so accepted, respected, loved, and hugged! It just feels good!” Ecstasy is seen by many as the magic doorway to these feelings. One rave fanatic told us that when he’s on Ecstasy, “I can do what I want – I feel so good.”

Ecstasy is not just a staple on the rave scene. It’s moving quickly into the mainstream youth culture and being used across socio-economic and geographic lines by young and old alike. Law enforcement officials are very worried about the growing problem of Ecstasy.

Those who care about kids should be concerned – this drug has serious short-term and long-lasting physical effects, even on those who may have only used it once or twice (see full list of effects in sidebar). Because it depletes the levels of Serotonin in the brain, users often experience a depressive “hangover” marked by mood swings, feelings of fragility, and burnout. For some, the “hangover” is long lasting and even permanent as the Serotonin receptors can be destroyed, leading to chronic depression, memory loss and reduced concentration. Some experts believe that as long as current Ecstasy use trends continue, we could be looking at a generation of serotonin-depleted adults who are chronically depressed. Sadly, more and more deaths are being attributed to Ecstasy use. While Ecstasy is still not believed to be physically addictive, it’s easy to see how young people looking for an emotional “kick” could quickly become psychologically dependent on the drug.

With a generation of young people growing up in the midst of broken relationships, it comes as no surprise that many would be drawn to Ecstasy as temporary relief from hurt, and an avenue to “closeness” and emotional bliss. For those who see the world as “mean” and “unfriendly”, Ecstasy takes off the edge for a few short hours of escape. Don’t be surprised if Ecstasy abuse continues to grow in our culture. The Ecstasy problem is another wake-up call from a youth culture that desperately needs the foundation of strong family relationships, a clear sense of right and wrong, and the only peace that passes understanding.


Physical Effects-

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Involuntary teeth and jaw clenching
  • Tremors
  • Blurred Vision
  • Muscle Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Dehydration
  • Overheating/heat stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Liver failure
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Irreversible Nuerotoxicity
  • Exhaustion
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Death 

Psychological Effects-

  • Mood Swings
  • Feeling burned out
  • Hallucinations
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Panic
  • Restlessness
  • Fear of losing control
  • Paranoia
  • Rage
  • Agitation


“It appears the ecstasy problem will eclipse the crack cocaine problem we experienced in the late 1980’s.” – Policeman to the Richmond Times Dispatch (Time, 6/5/00).

“What’s the appeal of Ecstasy? As a user put it, it’s “a six-hour orgasm.”  – (Time, 6/5/00).

“”E makes shirtless disgusting men, a club with broken bathrooms, a deejay that plays crap, and vomiting into a trash can the best night of your life. It has done two things in my life. I had always been aloof or insecure or snobby, however you want to put it. And I took it and realized, you know what, we’re all here; we’re all dancing; we’re not so different. I allowed myself to get closer to people. Everything was more positive. But my life also became, quickly, all about the next time I would do it. . . . You feel at ease with yourself and right with the world, and that’s a feeling you want to duplicate – every single week.” – Adrienne, a Midwestern woman who has used Ecstasy for five years (Time, 6/5/00).

“I felt appreciative of everything – family, friends, myself. When you’re on it, you perceive all the good in the world.” – Eric, 20 year-old college student (Maclean’s, 4/24/00).

“People who take MDMA, even just a few times, are risking long-term, perhaps permanent, problems with learning and memory.” – Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (CBS News, 6/14/99).

“Young people have not yet come to see Ecstasy as a very dangerous drug, and until they do, it seems unlikely that we will see the situation turn around.” – Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston, Principal Investigator of the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF Press Release, 12/13/00)

“With Ecstasy, everyone’s your brother, everyone’s your sister, everyone’s your best friend. (Ecstasy is like the) best feelings you’ve ever had in all your life condensed into a six to eight hour span. . . . They call it Ecstasy for a reason.” Chauncey Barton, Ecstasy user (60 Minutes II, 8/8/00).

“It’s a massive problem and it’s come upon them (law enforcement and social service agencies) almost without warning. What we’re encountering are literally hundreds of cases a month of psychotic, bizarre reactions from people who’ve been using Ecstasy.” – Barry McCaffrey – Director of the Federal Office of National Drug Control Policy (CBS News, 8/1/00).

“I don’t believe this has happened to me. This happens to other people. We didn’t even talk about drugs because it was a non-issue in our house.” -Robert Rich, father of 19-year-old Shari Rich who died from an Ecstasy overdose. (48 Hours, 11/30/00).

“Kids need to know, even if you think you’re on the right track and your whole life is planned out ahead of you, you need to beware. Because it takes just one pill and it’s over.” -Debi Rich, mother of 19-year-old Shari Rich who died from an Ecstasy overdose. (48 Hours, 11/30/00).


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