Ecstasy (MDMA) Use: Effects, Dangers & Addiction

3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (also known as MDMA or ecstasy) is a mind-altering substance used by many across the nation.1 In 2021, nearly 2.2 million people ages 12 and older in the United States reported using ecstasy in the past year, while more than 21 million (or 7.5% of) people within the same age range reported using ecstasy at some point within their lives.2

Ecstasy misuse poses a range of risks, including the potential for dangerous health effects and life-threatening overdose. This article will cover many of these effects and dangers, providing more detail on ecstasy overdose symptoms, addiction potential, withdrawal, and how to find treatment for ecstasy addiction or other substance use disorders.

What is Ecstasy (MDMA)?

Ecstasy is a synthetic methamphetamine derivative with both hallucinogenic and stimulant drug effects.3 It is often thought of as a party drug given its association with the club scene and music festivals; however, its use has expanded to other settings as well, including college campuses.4 MDMA is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for misuse and no accepted medical use.5

Although ecstasy is commonly taken as a pill or tablet, it is sometimes also found in powder or liquid form.5 It is often consumed orally, including by “stacking” (consuming more than three tablets at one time) or “piggy-backing” (taking several tablets in sequence over a short period of time).5 Some people may crush the tablets to snort the drug.5 Less common routes of administration for ecstasy include smoking or injecting it.5

In addition to ecstasy, another name for MDMA is Molly—a name often applied to what is mistakenly thought of as a purer form of the drug.3

Ecstasy (MDMA) Effects

Many people use ecstasy for the desirable effects it can produce, including a heightened state of happiness, emotional warmth, enhanced sense of wellbeing, and increased energy.3,7 However, those who use this drug can also experience several distressing effects, too. Some of the adverse effects of ecstasy include:7

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Hot flashes and/or chills.
  • Sweating.
  • Muscle tension and joint stiffness.
  • Involuntary teeth clenching.
  • Disorganized thoughts.
  • Feeling detached from oneself.

Episodes of binge consumption of MDMA over several days with subsequent periods of no use (a pattern commonly seen with recreational use) is associated with a different, more persistent or subacute pattern of adverse effects.7 People who engage in this specific cycle of ecstasy misuse have reported experiencing the following in the week following ecstasy consumption:7

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Problems with attention and memory

Ecstasy Health Risks & Dangers

There are risks and potential dangers associated with ecstasy use that can have more devastating and potentially lethal consequences in some circumstances. Some of the more rare, but significant dangers that can occur as a result of ecstasy use include the following:

  • Hyperthermia is a significant increase in body temperature resulting from MDMA’s interference with the body’s capacity to regulate temperature.7 The prolonged periods of physical activity (e.g., dancing) and warm environments that are associated with ecstasy use (such as nightclubs) can increase the risk for hyperthermia and subsequent related health issues such as rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown), kidney injury, electrolyte disturbances, brain swelling, and even death.5, 7
  • Hyponatremia is a dangerous health complication resulting from low levels of sodium.8 People under the influence of ecstasy may consume excessive amounts of fluid due to heightened body temperature and thirst, increasing the risk for hyponatremia.8 A person with hyponatremia may experience headache, nausea and/or vomiting, mental status changes, brain and heart problems, and potentially death.8
  • Serotonin syndrome occurs when there are extremely high levels of serotonin in the brain, which can be a result of ecstasy toxicity.9 Left untreated, serotonin syndrome can be life-threatening, with common signs including elevated body temperature, high blood pressure, confusion, agitation, and seizures.9

Ecstasy Overdose Symptoms

Though the risks of overdose (including some of the above health issues) are quite rare,  they are increased when ecstasy is taken with other substances, either knowingly or unknowingly (e.g., when it is cut with other substances prior to distribution).10

Additional ecstasy overdose symptoms may include high blood pressure, faintness, and panic attacks.7 Loss of consciousness and seizures can occur in severe cases.7

If you suspect someone is overdosing on ecstasy, call 911 immediately to render emergency medical services.

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Similar to other addictive substances, ecstasy interacts with particular neurotransmitter systems, including dopamine, a signaling molecule important in reward and reinforcement of certain behaviors. However, there are some marked differences in the usual patterns of use of the drug, and research hasn’t exhaustively determined ecstasy’s potential for addiction.11

The few studies that have been conducted to determine the addictiveness of ecstasy have produced a wide range of results, leaving researchers struggling to provide a definitive answer.11 Some results of the few studies conducted have shown that some people experience addiction-like symptoms while using ecstasy, such as developing tolerance or having withdrawal symptoms, while other results show contrasting experiences for those who use ecstasy.11

Withdrawal from Ecstasy

Some people who regularly use ecstasy have reported developing withdrawal symptoms after abruptly ending their use, some of which include:3

  • Extreme tiredness.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Difficulties concentrating.
  • Depressed mood.

Ecstasy Addiction Treatment in Tampa

Ecstasy misuse and addiction can increase the chance of dangerous health effects and negative consequences. If you or a loved one are experiencing a problem with misuse or ecstasy addiction, River Oaks Treatment Center is here to help.

To learn more about types of addiction treatment, including treatment options at our Tampa metro area inpatient drug and alcohol rehab, please contact us at to be connected with an admissions navigator. Our admissions navigators can provide information on using insurance to pay for rehab, review other options for handling the cost of rehab, and answer any additional questions you may have. Call today to start the admissions process.

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