Archive for Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Ecstasy far from a harmless drug

December 5, 2000


— While teen use of marijuana has decreased, continuing a three-year trend, teen use of a drug called "ecstasy" has increased dramatically. Use of the drug has doubled since 1995.

MDMA or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine is the scientific name for the drug more commonly known as ecstasy, XTC, X, the love drug, or Adam. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classifies the drug as a "Schedule I synthetic, psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties." Similar in structure to amphetamine and methamphetamine, MDMA was first produced by a German company, Merck, in 1912 to serve as an appetite suppressant. The United States Army also tested it in the 1950s as a potential weapon.

In the late 1970s, the drug was used in psychotherapy treatments. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, "MDMA is taken orally, usually in tablet or capsule form, and its effects last approximately four to six hours. Users ... say that it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for others, elimination of anxiety, and extreme relaxation. MDMA is also said to suppress the need to eat, drink, or sleep, enabling users to endure two- to three-day parties."

The drug's effects often lead to dehydration and exhaustion. Other adverse effects include "nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increased body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision." Those who have used it have also reported feelings of "anxiety, paranoia, and depression."

The DEA reports that, "An MDMA overdose is characterized by high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and, in more severe cases, loss of consciousness, seizures, and a drastic rise in body temperature. MDMA overdoses can be fatal, as they may result in heart failure or extreme heat stroke."

While the long-term effects of this drug are just beginning to be studied, the DEA cited a 1998 National Institute of Mental Health study that found habitual users "suffered damage to the neurons in the brain that transmit serotonin, an important biochemical involved in a variety of critical functions, including learning, sleep, and integration of emotion. The results of the study indicate that recreational MDMA users may be at risk of developing permanent brain damage that may manifest itself in depression, anxiety, memory loss, and other neuropsychotic disorders."

A long-time user of MDMA reported in an article for, "Ecstasy has nasty consequences. An ever-present depression gradually became a frame around the increasingly muted canvas of my life." She also said that, initially, she felt "less self-conscious, unburdened, light and lovely." A study released by German scientists found that those who took ecstasy and marijuana performed worse on intelligence tests than those who only smoked marijuana or took no drugs at all.

Alan Leschner, the director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, commented, "If your brain is getting zinged, then you ought to have some kind of deficit in cognitive ability, and here it is. There is this misconception that it's a benign, fun drug and it's not."

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