Ecstasy Use by Adolescents in Miami-Dade County, FL
Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, has become popular as a club drug and at techno dance events, such as raves, trance scenes and private parties. Many who attend raves and trances do not use drugs, but those who do, may be attracted to their generally low cost and to the intoxicating highs that are said to deepen the rave or trance experience ("NIDA," 2004). It has gained the reputation as a "hug drug" promoting empathy, relaxation, and sexuality. Studies indicate an increase in abuse of this drug, especially among adolescents and/or teenagers. It is a human-made drug that acts as both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. It is taken orally, in the form of a capsule or a tablet. It has short-term effects including feelings of mental stimulation, emotional warmth, enhanced sensory perception, and increased physical energy.
Health effects can include, but not limited to, nausea, chills, sweating, teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. Other names and/or street terms for ecstasy are those such as Adam, beans, clarity, dex, disco, biscuit, blue lips, blue kisses, E, essence, iboga, morning shot, pollutants, Scooby snacks, speed for lovers, sweeties, wheels, XTC, X, hug, beans, love drug, and white dove. In general, according to the 2003 Monitoring the Future survey, 4.5% of 12th graders, 3.0% of 10th graders, 2.1% of 8th graders had used ecstasy in the past year.
Ecstasy is synthetic. It does not come from a plant as marijuana does. Ecstasy is a chemically made drug, made in secret labs hidden around the country. Other chemicals or substances are often added to or substituted for MDMA in ecstasy tablets, such as caffeine, dextromethorphan (cough syrup), amphetamines, and even cocaine. Makers of ecstasy can add anything they want to the drug. So the purity of ecstasy is always in question. More recently, a new liquid form of ecstasy is of concern because its purity ranges wildly; it is cut with many different drugs, and user are, in turn, uncertain of what their getting ("Director's report," 1999).
Cognitive and physical effects of ecstasy can include, but is not limited to, the following: chronic users of ecstasy perform more poorly than nonusers on certain types of cognitive or memory tasks. Some of these effects may be due to the use of other drugs in combination with ecstasy, among other factors. In high doses, ecstasy can interfere with the body's ability to regulate body temperature. This can lead to a sharp increase in body temperature, which could result in liver, kidney, and cardiovascular system failure. Because ecstasy can interfere with its own metabolism, potentially harmful levels can be reached by repeated drug use. Users of ecstasy face many of the same risks as users of other drug stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines. These include increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a risk for people with circulatory problems or heart disease, and other symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating.
Physiological effects can include confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and severe anxiety. These problems can occur during and sometimes days or weeks after taking ecstasy. A neurotoxicity can occur with ecstasy. Research in animals links ecstasy exposure to long-term damage to neurons that are involved in mood, thinking, and judgment. A study done in nonhuman primates showed that exposure to ecstasy for only 4 days caused damage to serotonin nerve terminals that was evident 6 to 7 years later. While similar neurotoxicity has not been definitively shown in humans, the wealth of animal research indicating ecstasy's damaging properties suggests that ecstasy is not a safe drug for human consumption.
In general, research shows that use of any club drugs can cause serious health problems and, in rare instances, even death. Many drug users take combinations of drugs, including alcohol, which may further increase their danger. For most users, a "hit" of ecstasy lasts for 3 to 6 hours. Once the pill is swallowed, it only takes about 15 minutes for ecstasy to get into the bloodstream and reach the brain. About 45 minutes later, a user experiences ecstasy's peak level or high. It's downhill from there, unless the user takes more ecstasy. But even if the user only takes one pill the after-effects of ecstasy can last for several days to a week (or longer in regular ecstasy users). These include feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and memory difficulties. Users might feel very alert or hyper at first. They can keep on dancing for hours at a time while at a rave. Users also experience distortions in time, and other changes in perception, such as an enhanced sense of touch. Some will become anxious and agitated. Sweating or chills may occur, and the ecstasy user may feel like fainting or dizziness. Users can also become dehydrated through vigorous activity in a hot environment.
Ecstasy can interfere with the body's ability to regulate its temperature, which can cause dangerous overheating or hyperthermia. This, in turn, can lead to serious heart, kidney, and liver problems, and rarely, death. Ecstasy can be extremely dangerous in high doses, or when multiple small doses are taken within a short time period to maintain the ecstasy high. Blood levels of the drug can reach very high levels, increasing the risk of hyperthermia and other negative health consequences of MDMA.
There are hidden risks of toxicity with use of ecstasy. Other drugs chemically similar to ecstasy, such as MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine, the parent drug of ecstasy) and PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine, associated with fatalities in the U.S. And Australia) are sometimes sold as the drug ecstasy. These drugs can be neurotoxic or create additional health risks to the user. Also, ecstasy tablets may contain other substances in addition to ecstasy, such as ephedrine (which is a stimulant); dextromethorphan (DXM, a cough suppressant that has PCP-like effects at high doses); ketamine (an anesthetic used mostly by veterinarians that also has PCP-like effects); caffeine; cocaine; and methamphetamine ("NIDA," 2005). While the combination of ecstasy with one or more of these drugs may be inherently dangerous, users might also combine them with substances such as marijuana and alcohol, putting themselves at further physical risk.
Brain imaging research in humans indicates that ecstasy may affect neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons. The serotonin system plays a direct role in regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. Also, there is evidence that people who develop a rash that looks like acne after using ecstasy may be risking severe side effects, including liver damage, if they continue to use the drug. Research links ecstasy use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. One study, in primates, showed that exposure to ecstasy for 4 days caused brain damage that was evident 6 to 7 years later. Ecstasy, the parent drug of ecstasy, is an amphetamine-like drug that has also been abused and is similar in chemical structure to ecstasy. Research shows that ecstasy also destroys serotonin-producing neurons in the brain. Ecstasy also is related in its structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors and can eventually result in a form of paralysis.
Like other stimulant drugs, ecstasy appears to have the ability to cause addiction. That is, people may continue to take the drug despite experiencing unpleasant side effects, and other social, behavioral, and health consequences. No one actually knows how many times a person can use a drug before becoming addicted to it or who is most vulnerable to addiction. A person's genetic makeup, their living environment, and other factors probably play a role in their susceptibility to addiction.
Contrary to rumors, ecstasy is not an aphrodisiac and it can actually inhibit sexual performance. Ecstasy affects people differently. Depending on size, weight, health, dosage and individuals who struggle with drug addiction did not set out to destroy themselves, everyone and everything in their path; rather, these disastrous consequences are the effect of the vicious cycle of drug addiction. For many, drugs seem to be a means of averting emotional and/or physical pain by providing the user with a temporary and illusionary escape from or way to cope with life's realities. For example, an individual tries drugs or alcohol. The drugs appear to solve his problem. He or she feels better. Because he or she now seems better able to deal with life; the drugs become valuable to him or her. The person looks on drugs or alcohol as a cure for unwanted feelings. The painkilling effects of drugs or alcohol become a solution to their discomfort. Inadvertently the drug or alcohol now becomes valuable because it helped them feel better. This release is the main reason a…