Ecstasy is also known as E or MDMA, in America and Australia it is know as X or XTC. Pure ecstasy is Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) - although there’s less MDMA in E now compared to in the past. What’s sold as ecstasy is often cut with things like speed, aspirin, caffeine, ketamine or LSD/acid-type drugs.
E comes in pills but can also be a powder which can be snorted, inserted into the arse or sometimes mixed with water, then injected.
About half an hour after taking E, as you come up it makes your brain release its ‘feel good’ chemicals dopamine and serotonin. For up to four hours you can feel chilled out, buzzing with energy, less uptight. You may feel high and ‘loved up’ (full of affection, even for total strangers). Sounds and lights can be enhanced, which is another reason for E’s popularity with clubbers.
Jaw clenching, teeth grinding and sweating are also common. E can sometimes cause anxiety or panic attacks.
The drug can push up your body temperature to what could be life-threatening levels, which is made worse by hot clubs and dancing.
In the days after taking E many people feel down or irritable.
Between 2003 and 2007 just over 200 people died in the UK after using E, often in combination with other drugs. Ecstasy-related deaths are often due to heatstroke, heart failure or drinking too little or too much water. Many had used E with other chems or booze.
A small number of people seem to be hypersensitive to the drug, making their first experience of it dangerous.
Ecstasy can make people horny, with an increased sense of touch. But it can make it difficult to get a hard-on or to come. As the drug lowers your inhibitions it can make some people more likely to risk getting or passing on HIV.
‘Sexstasy’ is the combination of E and Viagra where the two pills are taken together or crushed, then snorted or put in a capsule and swallowed. This combination is used to get around the problem of getting and keeping a hard-on, however, this can be dangerous and lead to an erection that will not subside for several hours. If this happens you need to seek urgent medical help.
Tolerance to E can soon build, with more needed to get the same high. Some people come to rely on the drug and can’t imagine clubbing without it. Whether ecstasy use can cause long term memory loss or depression is unclear – research is still looking at this.
Alcohol – this can deaden the effect of E and mask the effects of the booze, making it difficult to tell how drunk you are. Both dehydrate the body, put strain on the liver and kidneys, and raise body temperature. Ecstasy-related deaths often involve booze.
HIV drugs – some of these, especially protease inhibitors, could send levels of E to life-threatening levels in the body. Check with your HIV doctor.
Anti-depressants – taking E when on a course of some anti-depressants can cause ‘serotonin syndrome’, a dangerous reaction with symptoms of agitation, sleeplessness, sweating, faster heart beat and muscle spasms. If this happens, you need to seek urgent medical help. If you’re on anti-depressants get medical advice before taking E.
Cocaine, speed, crystal meth – these stimulant drugs taken with E can put the heart under a dangerous level of stress, leading to a risk of heart attack or stroke. There is also a potential for ‘serotonin syndrome’.
Viagra-type drugs – as well as possible extra stress on the heart, there have been a few reports of this combination possibly leading to erections that won’t go down. If medical help isn’t found within four hours this can cause lasting damage to a man’s cock.
You can avoid overheating and dehydration by drinking a pint of water over every hour that you’re dancing, and by taking breaks. But drinking too much water can be dangerous.
Once your brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals have been used up, they take a few days to be replaced. So there’s little point taking more E. Any extra buzz you might get will come from whatever the pill’s been cut with.
E should be avoided by people with a history of mental illness or depression as it can trigger depression or make it worse if you have it already.
As ecstasy pushes up blood pressure and heart rate it should be avoided if you’ve got high blood pressure, heart, liver, or kidney problems, the eye condition glaucoma or a history of stroke.
Ecstasy is a Class A drug. Possession can mean up to seven years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Intending to supply (including giving to mates) can mean up to life in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
Read our page on Drugs and the police for advice if you’re arrested.
This article was last reviewed on: 28/10/11
Date due for next review: 28/10/13