Sometimes called the “love drug,” Ecstasy is common at rave scenes, clubs and parties. The small, seemingly innocuous tablet is most commonly abused in young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. In 2001, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reported that eight million people over the age of 12 had tried ecstasy at least once. Ecstasy, a stimulant drug, has also been linked to depression in some recent studies.
Depression is defined as a mental disorder affecting the brain in which sufferers feel intensely sad, numb, or disconnected for an extended period of time. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7 percent of Americans suffer a major depressive disorder a year. Brain chemistry is believed to be involved, with those suffering from depression thought to have lower levels of certain neurotransmitters that affect mood. Drug abuse also changes the chemical makeup of your brain, making substance abuse and mental health disorders a dangerous combination.
Ecstasy is man-made, and unlike other illicit drugs like cocaine, marijuana and heroin, it doesn’t get its origins from a plant. The chemical name for Ecstasy is MDMA or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, and it contains both stimulant and psychedelic hallucinogenic properties. Ecstasy is a Schedule I drug as defined by the DEA, which is the most strictly controlled substance with no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse and dependence. It is currently illegal in most countries, including the United States. Some of the street names for MDMA other than Ecstasy include:
- Love drug
- Lover’s speed
- California sunrise
Ecstasy is usually marketed in pill form and taken orally although it can be injected in some cases. A dose typically lasts for three to six hours, and some users take multiple doses to increase the longevity of the effects. Since Ecstasy is manufactured by people and sold illegally on the black market, there are many forms available. One of the newer forms is known as Molly, which is available in both pill and powder form; as a result, it can be snorted, added to a drink, or taken orally.
Different Ecstasy brand names are marketed and usually stamped on the tablet for identification purposes. Many of them are colorful and even contain cartoonlike images. Because Ecstasy is chemically produced, different brands often contain different levels of MDMA or different additives and ingredients altogether. One can never be sure of the purity of the Ecstasy they are receiving, and many tablets contain other drugs like LSD and speed. These mixtures can be highly dangerous and can cause many harmful side effects.
Who Abuses Ecstasy?
When Ecstasy first started appearing on the scene as a party or club drug, it was mostly Caucasian adolescents at overnight or weekend-long parties called raves snapping it up. Ecstasy is fairly inexpensive and offers a quick pick-me-up, hitting the bloodstream quickly and producing a high within 15 minutes. These partygoers would use the drug to enhance their mood, senses and sexual activity as well as to stay awake and wired throughout the night. Many hitting the club and rave scene also mix Ecstasy with other amphetamines like speed. Still others mix it with alcohol and additional illicit drugs.
Ecstasy abuse seems to spreading out of the club scene and throughout different ethnic groups. A Monitoring the Future study indicates that the drug is becoming more popular among African Americans in their 20s and 30s as well as among other non-Caucasian communities. Gay and bisexual males in big city settings are also reported to be using Ecstasy more frequently. Many of these urban gay males abusing Ecstasy at nightclubs are also abusing other drugs, greatly enhancing the risk potential.
Dangerous Side Effects
MDMA affects the chemical messengers in the brain, increasing the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine which help to regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. MDMA works as a stimulant, increasing euphoric feelings as well as feelings of trust, love and sexuality. It also has psychedelic properties, which can cause distorted senses.
MDMA changes the chemical composition of the brain, increasing levels of neurotransmitters. In so doing, the body stops producing these neurotransmitters in the levels needed or normally produced. This drop in natural brain chemicals, or happy cells, can create withdrawal symptoms that include trouble concentrating, fatigue, loss of appetite, anxiety and depression. One study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health indicated that teenagers who had taken Ecstasy or speed were 60 to 70 percent more likely to experience signs of depression a year after using the drug. There are many factors that may have contributed to these statistics, and researchers are unsure of its complete validity; however, the results definitely demonstrate cause for concern. Some of the risk factors for Ecstasy are:
- High-risk sexual behavior
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
- Blurred vision
- Distorted sense of time
- Sweating or chills
- Muscle tension
- Increased blood pressure
- Memory difficulties
- Altered mood
- Drug cravings
- Changes in appetite
- Rapid changes in body temperature
Mixing Ecstasy and Depression
Another factor to consider is that while depressive feelings may stem from Ecstasy abuse, those suffering from depression may also seek out relief in the form of Ecstasy. Since depressive episodes are often characterized as intense feelings of sadness, numbness and a sense of isolation, depressed individuals may seek out the happy high that comes with an Ecstasy trip. Some research even indicates that those suffering from depression may have low levels of the neurotransmitters that MDMA can work to increase. Emotional turmoil and pain may lead sufferers to seek a form of self-medication in the manner of illicit drugs.
Ecstasy may have even been created initially in the 1970s as a psychotherapeutic tool, as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It was never approved for clinical trials or use by the FDA, and it remains a Schedule I substance since 1985, however. There are currently clinical trials underway to test whether proper administration of MDMA can bring any anxiety relief to terminal cancer patients or those with PTSD. It is not yet clear if the administration of the drug will cause more harm than help.
Medical professionals stress that Ecstasy may permanently alter brain chemistry and should not be abused. It should never be used as an attempt to self-medicate other issues. While it may work on depressive symptoms initially, over time the brain develops a tolerance to the drug, needing more and more of it to attain the same desired effects. This tolerance can easily turn to dependence and even addiction.
A study on adolescents and young adults using MDMA reported that 43 percent were dependent on the drug. These alterations to brain chemistry can make treatment for mental health disorders even more difficult. Withdrawal symptoms can heighten depressive symptoms, encouraging the user to take more drugs, essentially making both disorders worse.
Treating Co-occurring Disorders
When someone has a mental health disorder as well as an addiction or substance abuse disorder, they are called co-occurring disorders. Treatment for co-occurring disorders is specialized and specific. Both disorders need to be addressed simultaneously in order to obtain the desired results. This is considered dual diagnosis treatment in which both the substance abuse and the depression are addressed at the same time. This treatment may involve work to find triggering events that may lead to episodes of depression and create drug-seeking behaviors.
Treatment centers that focus on treating the whole person, not just the disorders they are suffering from, help to prevent relapse and work toward managing symptoms. Here at Michael’s House, we offer specialized and individualized treatment facilities specific to each person’s needs. Dual diagnosis treatment that works to control addiction and substance abuse as well as teach patients how to cope with a mental health disorder is paramount to recovery.
Depression and Ecstasy abuse can be effectively treated; you can get on the path to recovery today. Call now for more information.
Speak with an Admissions Coordinator 760-548-4032