How Ecstasy Affects the Body

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.

Health problems

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

Recommended Reading:

The Voices of Ecstacy: Drug-Induced Schizophrenia and the Death of a College Student

Anna’s Story


16 thoughts on “How Ecstasy Affects the Body

  1. caroline

    hey im sry bout the loss ive lost alot of ppl in my life and it hurts alot and i no wat u guys are going threw and i i no that barry will never be forgotten…


  2. deee

    im very sorry for your loss. i am an 18 year old girl who is currently fighting ecstacy addiction.your page is what keeps me holding on to my life. ❤

  3. I overdosed on ecstasy when I was 20 years old, now I am 28 and i remember exactly what happened like it was yesterday. I was at a rave in West Virginia, my friend had purchased a ten pack of pills from a friend and we ate about 3 each and gave the rest to other friends, I had not done extacy in the last 6 months to one year prior to that time and had lost a tolerance for the drug, my friend who ate the exact same amount had her tolerance and was not affected, I ate one pill and then a half and another half and onother until the total was 2.5 to 3 pills over the course of the night. I drank about half a beer and no other liquid the entire night. in the early morning we started to drive home and I started to see the road winding more that it was. by the time I got dropped off at home, (I lived alone), I was sitting on my bed and everything started to go black, I felt my heart seem like it was slowing down, then somehow I panicked and my heart started to race, I went to the bathroom really scared looked in the mirrorr and noticed my eyes were almost swelled shut from the bottom, the bags under my eyes were so huge and tight that it freaked me out, I noticed my legs were covered in veins, small spider veins, everywhere, this was also scary seeing this, I was obviously going into organ failure from dehydration. I decided to eat a bowl of cereal with milk at this point I didn’t know the symptoms were from dehydration, this probably saved my life, the cereal was Total so it had a number of vitimins and minerals in it, and the milk was probably a nutritious choice. At this point after eating I knew I had to go to the hospital, but started to hallucinate and not see straight, the hallucinating lasted three days they were visual and auditory, of which I spent going to various hospitals. Everyone told me to do the same thing to go home and drink water. I found this very disappointing that this was the answer. So I just went home. After this experience I would get anxiety attacks, fits of uncontrollable shaking, I thought I was going to die every time this happened, this lasted about 6 months, I could not drive because of a slight whirling hallucination. This anxiety lasted about 3 years where I had severe panic attacks, the hallucinations were gone after 6 months. I never seeked any help for this because I had piled up medical bills from numerous emergency bills. And I was deathly scared of any kind of pill and knew the doctors would prescribe me something. This experience changed my view of life forever, it is fragile, and can be taken away at any time. And I have not taken any pill or drug since. It took me a while, probably 5 years to get comforatable in taking an ibuprophen for menstrual cramps. I was so afraid I had damaged my body beyond repair and didn’t want to push it for fear of losing my life. I feel like there is a hole in my brain, my memory does not function normally, I often have moments of amnesia. I cant remember where I am or who I am sometimes. I also feel like all of the organs in my body have been effected, my heart, with palpitations, my liver, brain, kidneys and adrenals, bladder, lungs especially, and thyroid. This has been the main event in my life and it has been a long recovery, but just as I recover I am now old enough to get the diseases that this kind of thing causes. Like leukemia, heart disease, lupus, hashimotos, philidelphia syndrome, liver disease, kidney failure, and other cancers. I have high white cells at the moment, and low thyroid, which could mean a number of nasty things. I also have a worsening chronic fatigue syndrome, which I dont like to use that word, which is actually a number of things together that cause this. Like adrenal fatuige, low thyroid, leukemia, etc. Anyway my life will never be the same, and I know a lot of other people would benefit from more information on the subject and detailed info about how it affects your urinary tract and the other things it targets. I am so anti-drug after that experience, I encourage everyone to think really hard before they take drugs of any kind. Its hard to convey how dangerous this drug is. In fact its hard to convey how dangerous anything is without real detailed information. I dont even take chamomile because its a sedative and i am afraid it will slow my heart to the point of heart failure.

    1. Benji Hope

      @PJ: “I dont even take chamomile because its a sedative and i am afraid it will slow my heart to the point of heart failure” – isn’t that a little hypochondriacal? Could it be that you had a pre-existing psychological problem prior to the alleged OD incident, the very same pychological condition which has since plagued you despite (I assume) being drugs-free?

      Also, on the subject of your paranoid hypochondriacal tendencies “I am now old enough to get the diseases that this kind of thing causes. Like leukemia, heart disease, lupus, hashimotos, philidelphia syndrome, liver disease, kidney failure, and other cancers.” – I believe you have the wrong drug in mind. As a practising biochemist, I have read into many published and peer-reviewed papers on the effects (both short and long) of MDMA. So far it is widely agreed within the scintific community that there is in fact no link between the consumption of MDMA and cancer. Bear in mind there is a rich source of data from human and animal studies (the latter of which saw huge doses being given, to no carcinogenic effect) for the past several decades. As for heart disease, liver disease and kidney failure – these arise due to the cumulative dehydration effects of taking an overdose of MDMA. One could argue that excessive salt too is as dangerous. Oh and excessive sugar. And while we’re at it, prolongued saunas/sunbathing exposure. These things like MDMA would require HYDRATION, from water for instance, a liquid that is readily available in all bars and clubs (sometimes it’s even for free).

    2. lorena castro

      wow i cant believe how long it took you to recover from all this. thanks for all the advice that you gave in your experience….i tend to use drugs just for the fun of it, but by reading your story i don’
      t think i want the same thing for me being 18 years old….take care and never look back always forward to whats coming up…!!!

      1. Harlequin59

        Always look forward, never back, live life with no regrets

        I have never done drugs and never will, I don’t have any experience with drugs but know what the main ones do to you, at the time they may feel great, but when the effects wear off you feel like shit. Its not a good idea to try them because even once might get you hooked.

        Thanks people who acknowledge this post, be safe.

  4. Annouchka

    Thanks to all of you for sharing your experiences. I waited this long in my life to take such foolish risks at the age of 44, I have never used prior. I was always flatered by comments on how young I look for my age and family and friends complimented me on my singing abilities which I had been gifted with and took all for granted, until I experimented with E for 3 months. Started out taking 1/day and gradually took 12/day, sometimes 6-7 at a time. I damaged my looks, lungs and probably more that I’m not aware of yet. I suffer from heavy depression which I am trying to challenge alone among other things. This has taught me to appreciate what I had and now what’s left.

  5. newgurl

    Thanks is right to everyone who writes about their experiences. I’m 42 and have never tried x or MDMA. I did this past weekend. I have no idea how much I took or what it was. I was given to us in pure form so we had to cut it down. Kind of cool, never seen it before. It hit me in 15 minutes and I couldn’t move. I was almost panicking I think, But my boyfriend sat beside me and kept me calm through the whole thing. He gave me little sips of water and told me to relax and that I was in control It was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had. Once I got through the first 45 minutes of staring at my hands and touching my face, I found comfort in lying upside down on the couch with my feet up on the wall and him beside me smiling and talking. The music was playing and it sounded so clear. You could hear everything so much better. The lights were a bit weird, but that passed in time. It was the most amazing high I’ve ever had.
    I had some odd hallucinations which i guess I didn’t know was a part of this, so that was funny the next day.
    The after effects have been a challenge though.Get this…on Sunday morning shortly after we woke up, my ears plugged up and I couldnt hear anything. Not a sound for about 10 seconds. It scared the life out of me. Then I was in the shower and all of a sudden, everything went black around me and i passed out. I fell out of the shower onto the bathroom floor. My boyfriend came in and helped me up….I couldn’t believe this was happening. The rest of the day I experienced a lot of blackness but didn’t pass out. Walking was a challenge. At 8pm sunday night, we were going to bed and on my way to bed, I fell. I kind of laughed because i was a mess all day and he wasn’t. Then I remembered to go lock door…on my way to the door, I blacked right out and fell hard over our couch and onto the floor. I could hear my neck crack as i landed right on it. I guess my boyfriend saw the whole thing and said I was completely passed out. My body just quit. I have bruising on my neck and pulled muscles. All week long, today being thursday, I’ve had wicked room spins, room turns black and i have to hold on to something so i don’t pass out, loss of appetite and liquid intake and today is the worst day of all. I’m in bed, vommitting, dizzy and i cant eat or drink anything. I’m scared and I’m wondering when this will pass or if this is normal. I hope and pray someone reads this and writes me back. Vommitting a lot and so lathargic. Room won’t quit spinning.

  6. Kyleigh

    Ive never done drugs…….i stubled on this site trying to find imformation on drugs for health class, and you alls expiriences and stories are very moving, helpful, and informative.

    Thank you…

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