The Effects of Mixing Marijuana and Ecstasy
Polydrug abuse begins when a person ingests more than one intoxicating substance. There are several reasons this occurs: The person is trying to moderate negative side effects from a primary drug of abuse, to stop abusing a different drug, to increase the high of one or more drugs, or to alleviate withdrawal or comedown symptoms from other drugs. Abusing more than one drug at a time is very dangerous, however, and it can cause addiction, harm to the body, and overdose.
Marijuana is one of the most widely abused drugs in the US, especially now that recreational use of the drug is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. Many people across the country feel that marijuana is not dangerous or addictive. This means, like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is more likely to be abused in combination with other substances, including prescription medications and other recreational, but illicit, drugs.
One drug often mixed with marijuana is ecstasy. This drug is famous for being used at parties, raves, or nightclubs as a primary drug of abuse. People who struggle with ecstasy addiction are very likely to also abuse marijuana specifically, but it is also somewhat rare for MDMA and related drugs to be taken alone. People who abuse ecstasy are more likely to struggle with polydrug addiction than other people struggling with drug addictions.
Ecstasy: Use and Abuse
Ecstasy is one name for a drug derived from 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, usually called MDMA. This stimulant chemical was originally used in small doses in therapy settings in the 1970s, but the substance became a drug of abuse in social or nightclub settings in the 1980s. Ecstasy, usually taken in pill or tablet form, reached peak popularity in the 1990s. Although it is still around today, other versions of MDMA, like Molly, are more popular because they are believed to be purer and therefore safer – a belief that is inaccurate.
People who ingest ecstasy are after the psychedelic effects, especially those involving changes in sensory perception and mood. The drug releases serotonin, leading to elevated mood and changes in how the brain experiences sensory input.
The euphoric effects of ecstasy include:
- Feelings of empathy
- Increased pleasure
- Changes in the perception of time
- Sensory hallucinations, including visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations
- Increased energy
Because the drug is related to methamphetamine, there are several negative side effects, both during and after the ecstasy trip. The drug begins to affect the user 20-40 minutes after it is ingested; peak effects hit within an hour to 90 minutes; and negative side effects begin after that.
These may include:
- Muscle tension
- Increased body temperature
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Jaw clenching or teeth grinding
- Serious dehydration
- Fatigue from heat
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Shivering and sweating
- Dizziness or faintness from blood pressure changes
- Blurred vision
- Nystagmus, or eyes shaking quickly from side to side
The comedown from ecstasy can be uncomfortable because the brain slowly recovers from the spike, then sudden decrease, in serotonin. Depression is one of the most common comedown effects, and it can last for two days after taking ecstasy.
- Changes to memory
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Cravings for MDMA
- Decreased appetite
- Aggression and impulsiveness
The comedown effects often lead people who consume ecstasy to use other drugs to moderate these effects, either in combination with ecstasy or during the withdrawal period. One of the most common drugs taken with ecstasy, as a way to moderate the strong effects of the drug, is marijuana.
Marijuana is a CNS depressant drug derived from the leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant. There are two active chemicals in marijuana – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – that people seek out when they ingest the drug. CBD is considered a therapeutic chemical, causing relaxation, pain reduction, and better appetite; those who use marijuana for recreational reasons prefer high-THC pot for its mind-altering effects.
When a person is high on marijuana, they may experience:
- Psychedelic effects, including changes to visual, auditory, and tactile senses
- Altered sense of time
- Mood changes, including positive mood
- Impaired body movement
- Trouble with cognition, memory, and judgment
Side effects from ingesting marijuana, either by smoking or eating it, include:
- Problems forming memories
- Bloodshot eyes
- Trouble walking or with physical coordination
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure in previously enjoyable activities
Because the amount of THC in recreational marijuana has been increasing through plant cultivation for several years, the drug is no longer mild. Different strains can have intense and very different, even unexpected, effects. However, there are a reported 22.2 million people in the US who use marijuana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making it one of the most widely abused drugs in the country despite the associated dangers.
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Why Combine Ecstasy and Marijuana?
A report published in 2007 in the Journal of Neural Transmission found that more than 90 percent of those who use MDMA, Molly, and ecstasy recreationally also use marijuana.
Common reasons people ingest marijuana and ecstasy in combination include:
- Both MDMA and pot are social drugs, so they are often available together at parties, raves, or clubs.
- A person who takes ecstasy or Molly may use marijuana to reduce the negative comedown effects.
- For some, marijuana may enhance the pleasure, relaxation, and psychedelic effects of ecstasy.
- Some people may attempt to make the euphoria associated with ecstasy last longer with marijuana use.
Most reports suggest that the first two reasons – easing comedown effects and the availability of both in social situations – are the most common reasons people combine ecstasy and weed.
The journal publication suggested that combining ecstasy (a stimulant) and marijuana (a depressant) led to opposing effects on physical arousal, body temperature, and oxidative stress – an imbalance in the production of free radicals and antioxidants.
In the report, 82 percent of 1,000 survey participants reported that cannabis was used to ease depression and anhedonia when coming down from ecstasy use. Another cited survey, involving 364 young adults who were polydrug users, found that 52 percent used marijuana to ease ecstasy’s negative comedown effects.
The journal article also cited a study that found that 36 percent of people who used cannabis reported taking it with MDMA to enhance the stimulant’s psychedelic and euphoric effects or to have a more mellow high while taking ecstasy.
Researchers suggested that marijuana may offer some anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects, which can modulate the oxidative stress and cell damage caused by MDMA. Pot may also reduce body temperature, reducing the risk of hyperthermia in people taking ecstasy. Some studies also suggest that using marijuana with ecstasy reduces neurotoxicity compared to taking the amphetamine alone or in combination with any other drug. However, there is little evidence that this works; evidence cited among people who abused these drugs in combination was anecdotal.
The Risks of Mixing Ecstasy and Weed
The consequences of combining these drugs are much more serious. For example, both drugs damage memory; ecstasy harms long-term memory formation while marijuana reduces the ability of short-term memories to form and also harms motivation and cognition. People who ingest both drugs are more likely to suffer serious memory impairment in several forms.
Both drugs are also linked to cognitive defects, which get worse the more the combination is consumed. A period of abstinence tends to allow the brain to return to normal, but for people who abuse multiple drugs consistently, the period of abstinence needs to be longer or their brain may not return to normal at all.
Taking both marijuana and ecstasy, either alone or in combination, increases the risk of triggering mood disorders. Marijuana may cause anxiety while the comedown from ecstasy can induce depression. If a person takes one drug and triggers a mood disorder, they may begin taking other drugs to alleviate the symptoms of the mood disorder.
Polydrug abuse is an urgent problem that can take over a person’s life. Using drugs to moderate the symptoms of other drugs can rapidly cause physical harm and may lead to overdose.