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Sheer Ecstasy!

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 14 in the December 1-2, 2007 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

Simply trying to pronounce Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) explains why it is better known as Ecstasy. Slang terms include: “E”, “X”, “Adam”, “M&M” and “MDM”.  It is a synthetic drug developed in 1914, and was first used as an appetite suppressant or diet pill. It is part of the amphetamine family with hallucinogenic activity resembling mescaline and an ability to modify how our brain perceives distance and time. It exerts its effects primarily within the serotonin systems of the brain. These areas control things such as sleep, sexuality, mood and appetite. Ecstasy did not turn out to be a very good diet pill because it could not stimulate the metabolism as well as other amphetamines. Studies in animals found that it is neurotoxic and even short-term use produced long-term brain changes in animal models. Its ability to distort reality and produce hallucinations is the reason it was made illegal in 1985.

As with some other drugs, Ecstasy is a synthetic and can be produced in a secret laboratory using a tricky and potentially explosive process. These secret labs produce potentially deadly vapors, which can pose risk to persons living nearby. It is difficult to control the purity or the amount in any given tablet. Other drugs can be mixed into batches, and there is a potential for overdose. It seems to be a favorite drug sold at all-night parties called raves, and is part of a growing group of “club drugs” with rising concern in the medical community. The impure nature along with simultaneous use of alcohol and caffeine make it difficult to predict effects.

There are reports of it enhancing emotional intimacy, and improving insight and sensations. The problems that people experience with repeated use are similar to those encountered with amphetamines or cocaine. Reports of sleep problems, depression and trouble concentrating after use are common. Some people enter into states of extreme anxiety and exhibit paranoid behavior. Sometimes, a state of dependence occurs in which users continue repeated use while acknowledging the adverse and potential harmful side effects: sweating, chills and teeth clenching are physical symptoms experienced by some. Others report feeling faint, nauseous, and experience difficulty with their vision. There are many reports of overdose and death, often accidental when users are not aware of how much ecstasy was contained in the capsules purchased. Death may be linked to the ability of Ecstasy to interfere with our temperature regulation system, producing a state of elevated body temperature called hyperthermia.

In response to this, there was a recent trend by health food stores to sell a "safe" alternative known as Herbal Ecstasy. It was soon followed by a rash of deaths. Herbal Ecstasy was found to contain two stimulants called Ephedrine and Caffeine in high doses. Both substances are capable of sending blood pressure rocketing, pulses racing and causing heart irregularities. Ephedrine has since been banned in Canada. Some people claim that Ecstasy can alleviate some of the devastating effects of Parkinson's disease and are prepared to suffer any consequences. I think that it is prudent to think hard and long about the consequences before indulging in any of the club drugs.

Related resources:
Basic Facts About Ecstasy (MDMA): A Mind Altering Synthetic Drug by Buddy T, About.com Guide.
About Ecstasy from Voices of the Victims. The risks and signs.
NIDA InfoFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy). From National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Health hazards, Extent of Use.
Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Neuroscience for Kids - MDMA (Ecstasy) by Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington. Behavioral Effects of MDMA, Effects of MDMA on the Brain, illustrated with diagrams and images.
Ecstasy Facts. Drug Prevention and Alcohol Facts from DrugInfo, Australia. What is ecstasy? Effects of ecstasy, Tolerance and dependence, Getting help, Ecstasy use in Australia.
Ecstasy is a safe drug, says police chief from the Telegraph.
Drug Facts (MDMA) (Ecstasy or Molly). What Are the Common Street Names for MDMA? How Is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) Used? How Many Teens Abuse MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)? Is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) Addictive? What Are the Common Effects of MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)? What Are the Dangers of Using MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)? What Risks to the Brain Can MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) Use Cause? What Are the Long-Term Effects of Using MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
Test Your Knowledge About Ecstasy. Quiz from In The Know Zone. Get test results instantly, correct answers provided.
ecstasy (E, pills, doves, MDMA, MDEA, MDA etc.). Ecstasy is a powerful stimulant and mood changer that speeds up your body system and alters your perception of the world.
A Rough Guide to Ecstasy. The chemical name for ecstasy is 3, 4 methylenedioxymethylamphetamine.
What Is Ecstasy? Includes: The Chemistry of MDMA/Ecstasy, Images of Ecstasy capsules and tablets, Statistics, List of Street Names for Ecstasy, Ecstasy and Health: Physical Damage from Ecstasy Use, Psychological Damage from Ecstasy Use.
Statistics about Ecstasy Abuse from RightDiagnosis.com.

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