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Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Last updated: 04/2/2019
Author: Medical Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Originally developed by Merck pharmaceutical company in the early 1900s, ecstasy started off being called MDMA. In the 1950s, it was used by the US Army in psychological warfare tests. In the 1960s, it was used as a psychotherapy medication meant to lower inhibitions. In the 1970s, it finally began being used as a party drug.

In the 1980s, MDMA was being endorsed as the “in” drug. MDMA, still legal in 1984, was sold under the name Ecstasy;’ however, by 1985 safety concerns lead to a ban on the drug.

Given its prevalence as a party drug, people don’t think about abusing MDMA or using it on a regular/dependent basis. Surely, people only use it at raves and electronic Dance Music venues. To some extent, there is a validity in that, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

Data and Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse mentions there are few studies that have attempted to assess MDMA dependency among general users. Those that have displayed widely differing results. Because there have not been a lot of studies completed, it is likely that the varied population samples and types of measures used have been the reason for different findings.

However, if addiction is defined (as it is by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) as chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences, then users of ecstasy report being addicted. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports: “We do know that some MDMA users report symptoms including: continued use despite knowledge of physical or psychological harm; tolerance (or diminished response); and withdrawal effects, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, depressed feelings, and trouble concentrating.”

Although it is generally agreed that ecstasy is not addictive, it clearly creates dependence and users will continue to take increasing amounts in the desire for a high. Studies of rats and MDMA dependence demonstrated ecstasy has dependence potential, although it is less potent in this regard than other drugs. One study concluded ecstasy dependence might be less likely than dependence upon other drugs where better understood types of addiction are present. Instead of the physical markers of addiction, ecstasy is more likely to create behavioral and psychological addiction.

Effects of MDMA

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the following effects of ecstasy use.

Reported Undesirable Effects Effects (up to 1 week post-MMDA, or longer):

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Impulsiveness
  • Aggression
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Lack of appetite
  • Thirst
  • Reduced interest in and pleasure from sex
  • Significant reductions in mental abilities

Potential Adverse Health Effects:

  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Involuntary jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Muscle cramping
  • Blurred vision
  • Marked rise in body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Dehydration
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Arrythmia

Symptoms of MDMA Overdose:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Faintness
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Ecstasy is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, and once there, it interferes with the body’s ability to break down the drug. Because of this, additional doses of ecstasy can produce unexpectedly high blood levels, which have the potential to worsen the toxic effects of this drug. It also hinders the breakdown of other drugs, including some of the additives that may be found in the ecstasy itself.

Related Dangers

Because ecstasy does not have the addictive qualities associated with more prevalent drugs like heroin and cocaine, it can be thought of as a safe drug. However, ecstasy does create dependence and causes behaviors that we think of as part of addiction:

  • Users do develop a tolerance that leads them to need greater quantities of the drug to achieve the same effect.
  • The diminishing effects of the drug leads many users to move onto “harder” drugs in conjunction with MDMA or alone.
  • Because ecstasy leads to good feelings, users will begin taking it around the clock, rather than just at parties or raves. In this way, it is like any other stimulant.
  • Ecstasy is highly processed and often contains drugs with more commonly understood addictive qualities. These additives can help speed MDMA dependence and cause withdrawal symptoms.