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Ecstasy Research

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Ecstasy
MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) or Ecstasy, as it is commonly referred to, is a dangerous substance that has most recently become the subject of great attention due to the controversy over the safety of taking Ecstasy. Ecstasy is a dangerous drug that should never be taken under any circumstance. Ecstasy is in fact a synthetic methamphetamine derivative, also known as; Meth, Crystal, or Glass. MDMA has many street names which include: XTC, Go, Ecstasy, Disco Biscuit, Cristal, X, Adam, Bean, E, M, Molly, and Roll. Ecstasy is widely used at events as dance club or "rave" parties, but is not exclusive to those events. It has been used at house parties, and in school environments. A "rave" is a large event that features what has been commonly referred to as “Dance” music with lights and special effects played by D.J.s who specialize in this form of music. Raves are held in everything from night clubs to abandoned buildings to fields.
Ecstasy was first synthesized in 1912 by a German company, possibly to be used as an appetite suppressant or a weight-loss drug. However, it was never marketed due to the unusual side effects of the drug. Ecstasy produces both stimulant and psychedelic effects, enabling those who take the drug to remain active for longer periods of time with less fatigue. This, in fact, is why Ecstasy is seen as a drug of choice at such events as dance raves, and other all-night activities.
There is a strong misperception that use of Ecstasy is safe unless the drug is somehow tainted with some other illicit substance. In fact, Ecstasy is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Schedule I Controlled Substances have no medicinal use in the United States, and have a high potential for abuse. Included with Ecstasy as a Schedule I drug are drugs such as Heroin and LSD. Ecstasy, even if taken only once, can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening physical problems. Psychological effects can include paranoia, confusion, depression, anxiety, and hallucinations. While the psychological effects should be enough to deter someone from using Ecstasy, the physical effects can also be severe. The physical side effects include: sweating, severe dehydration and body overheating, nausea, chills, tremors, convulsions, significantly increased heart rate and blood pressure, blurred vision, muscle tightness, faintness, muscle breakdown, kidney and heart failure, brain damage, and death.
The long-term effects of Ecstasy are largely unknown. Scientific testing has now begun to study these effects. In 1998, the National Institute of Mental Health studied a small group of Ecstasy users who were abstaining the use of the drug (Redman). These users suffered damage to the neurons in the brain that transmit serotonin (a chemical in the brain involved in several critical functions of life, including learning, sleep, and integration of motion). Studies now suggest that use of Ecstasy may lead to impairments in a person’s ability to reason verbally or sustain attention (ACDE). Ecstasy is a neuro-toxic drug. Ecstasy is a poison to the brain and its functions. Because Ecstasy causes brain transmitters to ignore messages that the body is overheating, there have been a higher incidence of heat related injuries and even fatalities. In effect, the use of Ecstasy can cause the brain to ignore the fact that the body is overheating and cause a person to avoid hydration until the body is dangerously overheated. Severe dehydration and overheating have also led some to drink excessive amounts of water, which can lead to death (ACDE).

Origins of Ecstasy

MDMA was developed in Germany in the early 1900s as a parent compound to be used to synthesize other pharmaceuticals. During the 1970s, in the United States, some psychiatrists began using MDMA as a psychotherapeutic tool, despite the fact that the drug had never undergone formal clinical trials nor received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in humans. In fact, it was only in late 2000 that the FDA approved the first small clinical trial for MDMA that will determine if the drug can be used safely with 2 sessions of ongoing psychotherapy under carefully monitored conditions to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nevertheless, the drug gained a small following among psychiatrists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with some even calling it "penicillin for the soul" because it was perceived to enhance communication in patient sessions and reportedly allowed users to achieve insights about their problems. It was also during this time that MDMA first started becoming available on the street. In 1985, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration banned the drug, placing it on its list of Schedule I drugs, corresponding to those substances with no proven therapeutic value (Volkow).

Making and Contents of Ecstasy

MDMA is the result of a complex scientific process involving chemical reactions, distillation and crystallization. Once MDMA powder has been produced, it can be mixed with a binding agent, such as china clay, paper binding, sucrose or lactose, and put into a press to make ecstasy pills.
The presses often stamp logos like Mitsubishis, doves or cartoon characters onto the pills to help users identify what they are buying. In reality, these designs bear no relation to what is inside the tablet, as production is not regulated.
The strength of each ecstasy tablet is determined purely by how much MDMA is added to the mixture at the time of the pill's creation. According to the DEA, the average MDMA content of ecstasy pills in the United States has fallen by 50% since 2000, with many being cut with caffeine, amphetamines, ketamine and piperazine, and some containing no MDMA at all. This has led to a two-tier system, with ecstasy pills averaging $15 per tablet and 'pure' MDMA powder selling for an average of $40 per gram.
Although MDMA can be produced anywhere, the large amount of chemicals required mean that commercial production of ecstasy tablets takes place in illegal laboratories. In 2007, there were 72 known ecstasy laboratories around the world, spread across eight different countries: Australia, Indonesia, Canada, USA, Holland, France, Mexico and Spain (ACDE).

What Ecstasy Does to Human Body

Ecstasy is both a hallucinogenic and a stimulant drug. It makes users experience a rush of good feelings (a high) and makes someone's feelings much more intense, whether they're good or bad. The drug's effects usually last up to 6 hours.
Ecstasy increases heart rate and can cause dry mouth, clenched teeth, blurred vision, chills, sweating, or nausea. It can make some users feel anxious, confused, and paranoid, like someone is trying to hurt them or is plotting against them. Ecstasy may cause direct damage to brain cells that are involved in thinking and memory.
If a person takes Ecstasy, his or her body can dangerously overheat during dancing or other physical activities, which can lead to muscle breakdown, kidney, liver and heart damage, and even death. Taking the drug can cause seizures, brain swelling and permanent brain damage (Redman).

Context Ecstasy is Primarily Used In

MDMA first gained popularity among adolescents and young adults in the nightclub scene or weekend-long dance parties known as raves. However, the profile of the typical MDMA user has been changing. The use of MDMA has spread among populations outside the nightclub scene.
Several news reports indicate that use is spreading beyond predominantly white youth to a broader range of ethnic groups. In Chicago, the drug continues to be predominantly used by white youth, but there are increasing reports of its use by African-American adults in their twenties and thirties. Also, indicators in New York suggest that both the distribution and use of club drugs are becoming more common in non-white communities (Volkow).
Other NIDA research shows that MDMA has also become a popular drug among urban gay males. Reports have shown that some gay and bisexual men take MDMA and other club drugs in myriad venues. This is concerning given that the use of club drugs has been linked to high-risk sexual behaviors that may lead to HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Many gay males in big cities report using MDMA as part of a multiple-drug experience that includes marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, and other legal and illegal substances (Volkow).

Harmfulness of Drug

MDMA is not a benign drug. MDMA can produce a variety of adverse health effects, including nausea, chills, sweating, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. MDMA overdose can also occur. The symptoms can include high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and in severe cases, a loss of consciousness and seizures (Drug Abuse).
Because of its stimulant properties and the environments in which it is often taken, MDMA is associated with vigorous physical activity for extended periods. This can lead to one of the most significant adverse effects, a marked rise in body temperature (hyperthermia). Treatment of hyperthermia requires prompt medical attention, as it can rapidly lead to muscle breakdown, which can in turn result in kidney failure. In addition, dehydration, hypertension, and heart failure may occur in susceptible individuals. MDMA can also reduce the pumping efficiency of the heart, of particular concern during periods of increased physical activity, further complicating these problems (Volkow).
MDMA is rapidly absorbed into the human bloodstream, but once in the body, MDMA metabolites interfere with the body's ability to metabolize, or break down, the drug. As a result, additional doses of MDMA can produce unexpectedly high blood levels, which could worsen the cardiovascular and other toxic effects of this drug. MDMA also interferes with the metabolism of other drugs, including some of the adulterants that may be found in MDMA tablets.
In the hours after taking the drug, MDMA produces significant reductions in mental abilities. These changes, particularly those affecting memory, can last for up to a week, and possibly longer in regular users. The fact that MDMA markedly impairs information processing emphasizes the potential dangers of performing complex or skilled activities, such as driving a car, while under the influence of this drug (Volkow).

Drug Restrictions

In the U.S., MDMA was legal and unregulated until 31 May 1985, at which time it was emergency scheduled to DEA Schedule I, for drugs deemed to have no medical uses and a high potential for abuse. During DEA hearings to schedule MDMA, most experts recommended DEA Schedule III prescription status for the drug, due to beneficial usage of MDMA in psychotherapy. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) overseeing the hearings, Francis Young, also recommended that MDMA be placed in Schedule III. The DEA however classified MDMA as Schedule I. However, in Grinspoon v. Drug Enforcement Administration, the First Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the scheduling determination for reconsideration by the DEA. MDMA was temporarily removed from Schedule I. Ultimately, in 1988, the DEA re-evaluated its position on remand and subsequently placed MDMA into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (Wikipedia).
In 2001, responding to a mandate from the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, resulted in an increase in the penalties for MDMA by nearly 3,000%, the increase in penalties was opposed by the Federation of American Scientists. The increase makes 1 gram of MDMA equivalent to 1 gram of heroin (approximately fifty doses) or 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of cannabis for sentencing purposes at the federal level (Wikipedia).
In a 2011 federal court hearing the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued that the sentencing guideline for MDMA is based on outdated science, leading to excessive prison sentences (Wikipedia).

Works Cited
Wikipedia. MDMA. November 2012. December 2012 <wikipedia.org>.
Volkow, M.D. MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse. 1st Edition. N/A: Degenhardt, 2006.
ACDE. Basic Facts About Drugs; Ecstasy. <http://www.acde.org/common/ecstasy.htm>.
Drug Abuse. DrugFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy). December 2010. <http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasy>.
Redman, M.D. What you need to know about Drugs. Ed. Mary L. Gavin. August 2010. December 2012 <kidshealth.org>.

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