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The Impact of MDMA and Ecstasy effect on Brain Function and Health

Medically reviewed by

Written by Bharat Hegde

MDMA is a drug that has gained legendary status due to popular culture’s portrayal of it. We might have heard of it in its different forms though, like ecstasy or molly. First bursting onto the scene in the mid-80s and early-90s, it is a highly addictive drug with multiple consequences on a person’s physical and mental health.

MDMA stands for Methylenedioxymethamphetamine. With a complicated spelling comes multiple complicated effects that MDMA has. Both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, it is similar to amphetamine in many ways. The drug can bring with it feelings of warmth and happiness, along with increased energy.

However, MDMA side effects can encompass a range of issues, occasionally including severe manifestations. It brings with it a serious risk of addiction, overdose, long-term changes in brain chemistry, and much more. MDMA is especially risky since it is often used with other substances, making it all the more dangerous for us.

Neurotransmitter Changes and Immediate MDMA effects on brain

As with most substances, MDMA causes significant changes in our brain’s chemistry. Once consumed, MDMA can begin to work in 45 minutes and its effects can last for up to 6 hours, but this varies among people. 

Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine: The Chemical Shift

The effect of MDMA is due to the fact that it influences and increases the level of three brain chemicals/neurotransmitters. These include:

  • Serotonin: This neurotransmitter plays a major role in our mood, behavior, thoughts, sleep patterns, and other important bodily functions.
  • Dopamine: This chemical affects our mood, movement, and levels of energy. This is why consuming MDMA is said to improve mood and energy. 
  • Norepinephrine: This is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It plays an important role in our body's “fight-or-flight” response. It also affects our body’s heart rate and blood pressure. 

Short-Term Psychological Effects: Euphoria to Anxiety

MDMA has multiple short-term effects that can range from pleasurable to straight-up distressing depending on the person. These include:

  • Improved mood and energy levels
  • Increased openness to interact with people
  • Increased empathy
  • Enhanced sensory perception

However, consumption of MDMA is also linked with multiple adverse effects including:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Involuntary clenching of the jaw and grinding of teeth
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Restless Legs
  • Nausea
  • Headache

There are further dangerous effects that are rare but can still occur ranging from seizures, kidney failure, fainting, panic attacks, and much more. All in all, the benefits of MDMA shrink in front of the multiple dangers it poses.

Long-Term Effects on the Brain

Cognitive Impairments: Memory and Attention Challenges

There have been many studies conducted on the effects of MDMA over a period of prolonged use and all point toward its ill effects on our brains. Since it constantly interferes with the brain’s neurotransmitters, prolonged use can cause permanent changes in the brain's neurochemistry. This leads to changes in a person’s cognitive abilities as well. Studies have shown that with prolonged use of MDMA, a person’s memory is impaired and they also face difficulty in paying attention to things.  

Emotional and Mood Changes: From Depression to Dependency

As mentioned above, MDMA plays around with important chemicals that regulate our mood and behavior, including serotonin and dopamine. As MDMA increases the levels of Dopamine and serotonin, the body gets used to the elevated levels of the chemical. 

However, our bodies are unable to naturally maintain these elevated levels. So, this leads to one of two outcomes. Crippling depression when the use of MDMA is stopped or a dependence on MDMA to maintain this elevated mood. 

Both these outcomes are incredibly dangerous for both the person and their loved ones. 

Prolonged Effects of MDMA on the Body

  • Cardiovascular Problems: MDMA can have serious effects on the heart, including a higher risk of arrhythmia and heart valve damage
  • Blood Pressure: Consumption of MDMA can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) and increased heart rate, which also strain the cardiovascular system over time.
  • Liver Damage: Regular MDMA use can lead to liver damage and, in severe cases, liver failure. 
  • Kidney Problems: MDMA can cause dehydration and hyperthermia (overheating), both of which can lead to kidney failure. The drug's effect on the body's salt balance can also cause a dangerous condition called hyponatremia.
  • Dental Issues: Users often experience bruxism (teeth grinding) while under the influence of MDMA, which can lead to long-term dental problems.

Neurotoxicity and Brain Damage Risks

The drug also poses a major risk of causing permanent damage to the brain. Research has shown that MDMA use leads to permanent changes in how the brain is structured and in its functioning. This is especially evident in areas related to memory formation. Such changes can lead to cognitive deficits and increase the risk of a person developing other psychiatric disorders.

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Addressing Misconceptions and Understanding Real Risks

With MDMA’s influence in popular culture, it is easy to consider it just a party drug and a bit of harmless fun. However, this would be grossly inaccurate, since MDMA has multiple troubling implications for a person. It has severe long-term effects on the brain and can lead to dependence quite easily. 

Debunking Myths: What MDMA and Ecstasy Do and Don't Do

There are a lot of myths surrounding MDMA. However, it is important to understand a few important points.

  • MDMA makes me feel light and happy: MDMA can lead to a short period of increased warmth and happiness, but post-that it immediately results in a severe emotional crash and could even lead to crippling depression.
  • MDMA is not such a dangerous drug: This myth is very popular since the drug is widespread in its use and supply. MDMA is a dangerous drug on its own and can have long-lasting effects even after a single use. Further, it is commonly mixed with other, stronger substances increasing the risk of overdose and adverse effects. 

Harm Reduction and Safe Practices

The most important step in the battle against MDMA is abstinence. Not using the substance is the safest option. But if usage has already begun, then tapering off from it is the next safest option. Identifying signs of dependency on MDMA and seeking help is a crucial step that can save a person’s life.

Conclusion: The Need for Further Research and Awareness

While new studies are showing that MDMA could be useful in treating some cases of depression and anxiety, there needs to be a lot more research on the substance. Meanwhile, there also needs to be significant awareness campaigns, especially amongst the youth, about the adverse effects of MDMA and the risk of addiction that it brings with it.

At Cadabams Anunitha, we understand the nature of MDMA addiction and the unique challenges it poses. We offer evidence-based advanced treatment programs to help you battle MDMA addiction while also ensuring that you are holistically improving in all facets of life. If you or someone you know is battling substance use disorders, reach out to us today!

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1. What are the sustained effects of ecstasy on the human brain?

Ecstasy is seen to have multiple different effects on the human brain. Because of its effects on the neurotransmitters of the brain, it can cause permanent changes to the brain’s chemistry. Further, it is also seen to cause changes in the brain’s chemistry.

2. What is the significance of ecstasy?

Ecstasy is a pretty addictive drug that is very popular amongst the party-going crowd. Youngsters are usually introduced to the drug as a substance that increases their pleasure and energy, especially at parties and gatherings.  

3. What drugs can cause brain swelling?

There are different substances that can cause brain swelling for various reasons. Large amounts of MDMA have been seen to cause brain swelling in individuals. This can also lead to an increased risk of seizures and strokes.  

4. What are the symptoms of brain damage?

The symptoms of brain damage are varied and usually not visible until too late. In individuals with MDMA use issues, there are multiple symptoms including cognitive deficits, memory issues, and more.

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