The Agony of Ecstasy among Young People
Young people have been experiencing ecstasy in increasing numbers, and I don’t mean that in a good way. According to data gathered by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), there was a 128 percent increase in the number of emergency department (ED) visits associated with ecstasy use between 2005 and 2011 among individuals younger than 21 years.
The data were compiled and issued in a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. More specifically, the number of ED visits rose from 4,460 in 2005 to 10,176 in 2011, and about one-third of the people who required emergency treatment also had participated in underage drinking.
When ecstasy and alcohol are taken together, feelings of euphoria last longer than when either drug is used alone. This combination of substances increases the user’s chances of making poor decisions as well as raises the potential for abuse, according to previous research.
About ecstasy use
Largely regarded as a party drug, ecstasy (also known as MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) interferes with the activity of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The result is a feeling of euphoria, enhanced self-confidence, altered perception, loss of inhibitions, and high energy as well as anxiety, blurred vision, nausea, chills, clenched teeth, and confusion.
Use of ecstasy can lead to high blood pressure, a rise in body temperature, heart failure, seizures, and kidney problems. Long-term effects may include damage to brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in problems with memory, mood, learning, and appetite.
Ecstasy typically is laced with other ingredients, such as methamphetamine, dextromethorphan, or caffeine. The pure crystal or powder form of MDMA is known as Molly, and it also is a popular club or music festival drug. Not all Molly is untainted, however.
Ecstasy and unprotected sex
The clear health dangers associated with unprotected sex also are a significant concern among young people who turn to ecstasy. A new report from Brazil looked at a group of 240 males and females who admitted to using ecstasy and/or LSD during the 90 days prior to the study.
More than half of the males in the study said they had had unprotected sex during the previous year. Overall, more than 63 percent of the study participants reported they had not used protection during sexual activities.
Since use of ecstasy lowers one’s inhibitions, it is a popular drug for engaging in sex. The authors found an association between unprotected sex and the desire to use drugs to prolong the experience.
Ecstasy and memory
Young people who use ecstasy today may feel euphoric for a while, but someday soon they may not even remember those feelings. Why? Because use of the drug has been found to have a detrimental effect on memory.
In a new study published in the October 2013 issue of Psychopharmacology, the authors reported on a comparison between current ecstasy users, previous users (4 or more years of abstinence), and four control groups (no drugs; alcohol and nicotine; marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine; and non-ecstasy multidrug use). A total of 997 individuals were enrolled in the study and all of them completed questionnaires and were evaluated on 13 psychometric factors.
Individuals in both of the ecstasy groups had the highest level of deficits on ten of the 13 factors (e.g., memory, depression, sleep disturbances, impulsiveness) when compared with all four control groups.
Also notable was the fact that previous users of ecstasy showed few indications of recovery from drug use, which suggests the brain damage is permanent.
Ecstasy, what parents should look for
Parents and other concerned individuals can look for signs of ecstasy use. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, here are some other clues.
- Individual wants to be touched or has an exaggerated need to touch items they say feel nice
- Presence of small colored pills that look like candy. You may find them loose in the person’s pockets, backpack, or car or they may be strung on a string like a candy necklace. Ecstasy is also available as a liquid
- Change in the person’s sleeping habits
- Lack of awareness of pain. For example, someone may have a bruise and not know how he got it or cut herself and not react to the pain.
- Sudden increase in sexual activity. This may be more challenging for parents to detect, but it can manifest itself as the sudden appearance of provocative dress or behaviors.
- Individual expresses unexpected feelings of love for someone they may know or barely know
- Heavy use of ecstasy may cause young people to become aggressive, paranoid, or confused.
If you are a parent who suspects a child is using ecstasy or who is worried about drug use, communication with the young person is critical. Narconon International and other organizations and mental health experts can offer tips on how to talk to your kids. If you know your child is using drugs, then it's time for a professional intervention.
Ecstasy is a popular drug among young people. The rise in ED visits, the combination of ecstasy and alcohol use, unprotected sex, and evidence that the drug causes lasting brain injury are all causes for great concern and action.
Ecstasy-related emergency department visits by young people increased between 2005 and 2011: alcohol involvement remains a concern. The DAWN Report 2013 Dec 3.
Hernandez-Lopez C et al. 2,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Ecstasy) and alcohol interactions in humans: psychomotor performance, subjective effects and pharmacokinetics. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 2002; 300(1): 236-44
Remy L et al. Correlates of unprotected sex in a sample of young club drug users. Clinics (Sao Paulo) 2013 Nov; 68(11): 1384-91
Taurah L et al. Depression, impulsiveness, sleep and memory in past and present polydrug users of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), ecstasy). Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2013 Oct 11 Epub ahead of print