MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has a chemical structure similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline and can produce both stimulant and psychedelic effects. Reportedly, MDMA's psychedelic effects are milder than those produced by hallucinogens such as LSD and mescaline.
MDMA has been available as a street drug since the 1980s. Its use has escalated in the 1990s among college students and young adults, particularly those who participate in all-night dance parties called "raves." MDMA's street names include "ecstasy," "XTC," "clarity," "essence," and "Adam."
Methods of Use
MDMA is most often available in tablet form and is usually ingested orally. It is also available as a powder and is sometimes snorted and occasionally smoked but rarely injected.
Extent of Use
In 1998, 3.6 percent of 12th-graders, 3.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.8 percent of 8th-graders reported they had used MDMA in the past year, according to the NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future survey (MTF), which is conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
MTF's followup of a group of graduates from each surveyed high school class indicates that the number of college students who had used MDMA during the past year rose from 0.9 percent in 1991 to 2.4 percent in 1997. Among young adults, annual MDMA use rose from 0.8 percent to 2.1 percent during the same period.
The NIDA-sponsored Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG), a network of researchers from 21 major U.S. metropolitan areas, also has reported increased MDMA use by young adults and adolescents in many areas of the country in recent years. At the December 1998 CEWG meeting, researchers from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York City, and Washington, D.C., reported MDMA use at night clubs and raves by young adults and adolescents.
Effects of Use
MDMA stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin from brain neurons, producing a high that lasts from several minutes to an hour. The drug's rewarding effects vary with the individual taking it, the dose and purity, and the environment in which it is taken. MDMA can produce stimulant effects such as an enhanced sense of pleasure and self-confidence and increased energy. Its psychedelic effects include feelings of peacefulness, acceptance, and empathy. Users claim they experience feelings of closeness with others and a desire to touch them. Because MDMA engenders feelings of closeness and trust and has a short duration of action, some clinicians claim that the drug is potentially valuable as a psychotherapeutic agent. However, MDMA is classified by Federal regulators as a drug with no accepted medical use.
MDMA users may encounter problems similar to those experienced by amphetamine and cocaine users, including addiction.
In addition to its rewarding effects, MDMA's psychological effects can include confusion, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and paranoia during, and sometimes weeks after, taking the drug.
Physical effects can include muscle tension, involuntary teeth-clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Increases in heart rate and blood pressure are a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.
MDMA-related fatalities at raves have been reported. The stimulant effects of the drug, which enable the user to dance for extended periods, combined with the hot, crowded conditions usually found at raves can lead to dehydration, hyperthermia, and heart or kidney failure.
MDMA use damages brain serotonin neurons. Serotonin is thought to play a role in regulating mood, memory, sleep, and appetite. Recent research indicates heavy MDMA use causes persistent memory problems in humans.
For More Information
Additional information about MDMA can be found on the Home page on the World Wide Web at www.drugabuse.gov. Fact sheets and recorded messages about MDMA can also be found on Infofax, NIDA's automated information retrieval system, at (888) 644-6432.
View our summary of links about MDMA (Ecstasy).