Don't do this: partying with ecstasy may kill you

Harold Mandel's picture
Illicit drugs

The drug culture is as widespread and as dangerous as ever. A favorite drug of abuse is MDMA, which is known on the streets as ecstasy or Molly. This synthetic, psychoactive drug is similar to both the stimulant amphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. This drug is dangerous and can kill you, particularly in warm environments according to new research.

Ecstasy is popular at hot, crowded "rave" parties

Ecstasy is an illicit drug which is often used at hot, crowded “rave” parties, however, the data on potential health hazards associated with abuse of this drug has been controversial reported The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers investigated the effect which MDMA has on temperature homeostasis in male rats under standard laboratory conditions and under conditions which simulate drug use in people. Temperature was continuously measured from freely moving rats via the use of implanted thermocouple microsensors in the rats brains and skin.

The data the researchers collected demonstrated dramatic enhancements of drug-induced brain hyperthermia occurred during social interaction and in warm environments. Peripheral vasoconstriction was observed to be a critical mechanism associated with MDMA-induced brain hyperthermia. This results in disruption of proper heat dissipation to the external environment.

Ecstasy becomes extremely dangerous under hot, crowded conditions

Via this mechanism MDMA at a moderate nontoxic dose can cause fatal hyperthermia under environmental conditions which are commonly encountered by humans. The results demonstrated that doses of MDMA that are not toxic under cool, quiet conditions can become extremely dangerous under conditions which mimic the recreational use of MDMA at rave parties or in other hot, crowded situations.


An NIH preclinical study has suggested there is a higher risk of death associated with use of MDMA with warmer brain temperature reports the National Institute of Drug Abuse. This study has found a moderate dose of ecstasy which is typically not fatal in cool, quiet environments can actually be lethal in rats which are exposed to conditions that mimic the hot, crowded, social settings where this drug is generally used by people.

Previous studies have shown that high doses of MDMA increase body temperature, while results with moderate doses have not been consistent. Many people have assumed this drug is harmless if it is taken in moderation. However, it has been shown in this study that even moderate doses of ecstasy in rats can be dangerous in certain environments because it disrupts the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

High doses of ecstasy can lead to organ failure and death

NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow says it is known that high doses of ecstasy can dramatically increase body temperature and potentially lead to organ failure or even death. This new study raises considerations that even moderate doses of this drug could be lethal in certain conditions. This study done on rats demonstrated that the use of ecstasy in certain warm, social settings may be more dangerous than was previously believed.

Even with moderate doses of ecstasy the researchers observed drug-induced, fatal brain hyperthermia occurred during conditions of social interaction and in warm environments. The findings have suggested that medical interventions which are aimed at increasing the efficiency of whole-body cooling by targeting blood vessel constriction in the skin may be a therapeutically relevant intervention for counteracting the development of ecstasy induced hyperthermia.

Ecstasy is an illicit drug with a high abuse potential which has no recognized medicinal use. Yet, this drug is a very popular drug of abuse which increases energy and feelings of euphoria while distorting sensory and time perception. The myth that in moderate doses this drug is harmless has been dispelled by this new research.

The rave parties, which are long dance parties, where use of ecstasy is most popular, creates perfect conditions under which this drug has been shown to cause death by this study. This understanding should be used to heighten public awareness of the dangers of ecstasy in efforts to persuade people to learn to be scared of what this drug, like other illicit drugs, can do to them.