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Dangers of Ecstasy Abuse

Ecstasy: A Deadly Gamble for Today's Youth

By Mark Bennett

Ecstasy, officially known by its chemical abbreviation MDMA, is a synthetic drug that produces both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. Also known as "E," "X," "XTC," "go," and the "hug drug," ecstasy usually comes in the form of a small tablet that can be taken orally. Ecstasy can bring its users feelings of extreme euphoria and physical pleasure.

The drug can temporarily relieve users' inhibitions and anxieties, giving them an enhanced sense of empathy and emotional closeness with others. Ecstasy can also cause increased sexual feelings, which, combined with users' lowered inhibitions, may cause teens to make sexual decisions they might not ordinarily make. Ecstasy's high can last as long as four to six hours, during which time the need to eat, drink, and sleep is suppressed. It is these effects that have made the drug so desirable for teenagers at dance clubs and all-night parties.


Immediate Dangers

Ecstasy's short-term side effects are alarming. Ecstasy interferes with the brain's essential chemical functions. It can scramble the body's temperature signals to the brain, which can cause hypothermia, dehydration, or heat stroke—especially dangerous for users who exert themselves with dancing. Ecstasy can also produce other harmful and frightening side effects, such as

  • High blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Faintness
  • Muscle cramping
  • Confusion
  • Panic attacks

In severe cases, people have died from seizures and strokes, as well as cardiovascular and kidney failure, from ecstasy use. As a result of the drug's increased use, the amount of ecstasy-related emergency-room cases quadrupled between 1998 and 2000 alone. The amount of deaths involving ecstasy has also increased. "One of the biggest problems we're having with ecstasy is people thinking if you die from it, you're not using it right," said Brian Blake, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.


Long-term Consequences

Many of ecstasy's dangers may occur in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand, however. Even first-time users have shown after-effects such as depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, paranoia, and sleep disorders, and may become psychologically and physically addicted to the drug. Conclusive evidence shows that ecstasy damages the nerve cells that produce serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, emotions, sleep, memory, and cognitive skills. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a study on monkeys showed that exposure to MDMA (ecstasy) twice a day for four straight days caused brain damage that was evident six to seven years later. The study suggests that people who take ecstasy may also be risking permanent brain damage. Ecstasy may be particularly harmful to adolescents, though, whose brains are still developing.


A Deadly Gamble

Many users of ecstasy tend to mix it with other drugs, most commonly alcohol, which can exacerbate the drug's harmful effects. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, 86 percent of all ecstasy-related emergency-room cases in 2001 involved ecstasy's being mixed with other substances. Nearly half of these cases were when it was mixed with alcohol.

Ecstasy use skyrocketed in the late 1990s, from an estimated 300,000 new users in 1995 to almost 2 million new users in 2000, according to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Among high school students surveyed in a 2001 NIDA study, 12 percent of 12th graders, 8 percent of 10th graders, and 4 percent of 8th graders stated that they had used ecstasy in the past year. Blake said the current ecstasy rate appears to have reached a plateau, but that its widespread popularity has caused teenagers to now use ecstasy right in their own homes.

Kids are being told by their peers that ecstasy will give them the greatest high of their lives, that it's safe, that it's cool, and that the only ones who get hurt by it are those that misuse it. But, quite simply, ecstasy, like other drugs, is not a gamble anyone, especially growing kids, should take.