Excerpts from the book “Drugs in Australia: Ecstasy” by Michael Shannon.
Go back to the previous part in this series: What is Ecstasy?
Ecstasy has been described as an hallucinogenic amphetamine. This means it combines the effects of “speed”, a stimulant which speeds up the nervous system, and LSD, a drug that changes the way things are seen or heard (although few users experience hallucinations). The chemicals in the drug act on the brain to release natural mood changing chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and L-dopa, which are associated with feeling pleasure, energy and excitement.
Effects on how people feel
At first, ecstasy usually makes people feel very self-confident, energetic and close to others. A rise in blood pressure, body temperature and pulse rate is also common. Users may find themselves moving in a very repetitive way – shaking their head or arms over and over, unable to keep still. Being at a dance venue also encourages this.
The effects of ecstasy depend on such things as the amount taken, the way the drug is taken, and the quality and purity of the drug. Generally the effects can be felt within 20 minutes of taking the drug and last up to six hours, although, for some people, the effects can last as long as 32 hours.
In some instances ecstasy can make people feel anxious, paranoid (fearful that others want to harm them) and depressed. Some users also experience jaw clenching, teeth grinding, sweating, dehydration, nausea, a loss of appetite, and anxiety. Although generally the majority of ecstasy users feel good, happy and full of energy for a few hours.
After the “high”
As with most other drugs, after the high ecstasy usually produces a “hangover” effect, which is sometimes called “coming down”. This can include a loss of appetite, feeling very tired but unable to sleep, depression and muscle aches. It can also make concentration difficult – particularly on the day after taking ecstasy. Some people also experience anxiety and paranoia (feeling distrustful of people around them). These effects usually begin the day after taking the drug and can last for several days.
Taking higher doses of ecstasy doesn’t appear to make the pleasurable effects stronger. It is more likely to cause hallucinations, floating sensations, irrational and strange behaviour, vomiting, muscle melt-down and/or convulsions (fits).
There is also some evidence that long term use of ecstasy can damage the brain (causing memory loss and affecting concentration) as well as the heart and liver.
Ecstasy affects serotonin, the chemical in the body that regulates the body’s temperature. Because ecstasy generally causes the body’s temperature to rise, many users try to keep sipping water to prevent dehydration. However, drinking water does not reduce the effects of ecstasy, it only prevents dehydration. People affected by ecstasy often don’t realise that they may be drinking too much water, which can cause cells in organs such as the liver, heart, lungs and brain to swell up, burst and die. When the brain is affected, respiration, heart rate and blood pressure will fall, which can lead to death.
It is possible to overdose from ecstasy. The signs of an overdose are very high body temperature and blood pressure, hallucinations and a faster heartbeat. This is especially dangerous for those who already have a weakness in their heart or breathing problems, and for people with depression or any other psychological disorder. Sometimes overdoses can reveal a heart problem for people who didn’t realise they had a problem.
Read the next part in this series: The Impurities of Ecstasy