Ecstasy is an illegal drug, often consumed at parties or raves. It has stimulant properties like amphetamine and it can also cause hallucinations.

People who use this drug often believe that ecstasy is a safe drug, but it can have a number of short- and long-term effects. It is even possible to die from complications from using the drug.

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About ecstasy

Ecstasy (also known as E, XTC, X, Dove and the Love Drug) is made and sold illegally. It is sometimes called by its chemical name, MDMA (short for 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine).

Ecstasy is most often swallowed in tablets or capsules. Tablets vary in:

  • shape
  • size
  • colour
  • amount of drug they contain

Many are stamped with official-looking names or logos. However, these stamps do not identify what is in the pills and do not mean the pills are safe.

In fact, many pills may not have any ecstasy in them at all. The makers often use cheaper ingredients instead, such as cornstarch, soaps or detergents. And if there is an active ingredient in the tablet, it may not be MDMA. Common substitutions include:

Such drug mixtures can pose severe risks to a person's health and safety.

Some tablets may be sold as "herbal ecstasy." These may not contain any MDMA. Instead, they usually contain ephedrine, a natural stimulant. But these are no safer than regular ecstasy. If used problematically, ephedrine can increase the risk of:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • death

Ecstasy should never be combined with other illegal drugs or prescription medications. Toxic reactions can happen if ecstasy is taken with medications used to treat depression or HIV.

The effects of ecstasy are not immediate. When it is swallowed, it takes about an hour to reach the brain. The effects may last from 3 to 6 hours. Some of the effects of ecstasy may last up to 1 week or longer after the drug is taken.

Short-term effects of ecstasy

Ecstasy use can lead to short-term mental and physical effects.

Mental effects

Ecstasy triggers the brain to release feel-good chemicals (called serotonin and dopamine). Generally, the drug causes:

  • euphoria, which involves feelings of pleasure and well-being
  • empathy, which is a sense of sociability, friendliness and closeness with others
  • energy, which increases physical energy and confidence

Physical effects

Ecstasy can also produce unpleasant physical effects. These include:

  • decreased appetite
  • dilated pupils and blurry vision
  • teeth grinding and jaw pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • panic attacks or anxiety
  • confusion or paranoia
  • delirium or hallucinations
  • increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • seizures or convulsions

One dangerous effect of ecstasy is that it raises body temperature. This can be a serious problem since people often take ecstasy:

  • in hot places (crowded parties or raves)
  • while engaging in physical activity (dancing)

People who use ecstasy risk becoming dehydrated if they do not drink enough water. Also, if their temperature gets too high (above 42°C), their organs begin to shut down. This is a leading cause of death from ecstasy use.

A related health risk is the opposite of dehydration. People may feel so hot that they drink too much water. This can unbalance the chemicals (electrolytes) needed by the body to function.

Long-term effects of ecstasy

Ecstasy use can lead to long-term mental and physical effects.

Mental effects

During or after the time a person takes ecstasy, they may also experience:

  • mental confusion
  • depression
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia (believing others want to harm them)
  • sleeplessness

Some people can still experience delusions, hallucinations and psychotic symptoms for several days after using ecstasy. In certain people, these effects can linger for weeks.

Physical effects

All body systems are affected when a person takes drugs, but some are more vulnerable than others. Increased blood pressure can make blood vessels inside the brain burst and bleed. This can cause death.

Repeated use of ecstasy can also lead to:

  • chronic exhaustion, fatigue and muscle aches
  • decreased appetite as well as nausea, vomiting and weight loss
  • damaged brain cells and memory problems
  • kidney or liver damage
  • reduced interest in sex
  • substance use disorder (although physical dependence is rare)

Using ecstasy can be particularly harmful for people with existing conditions, such as:

  • diabetes
  • epilepsy
  • heart, kidney or liver problems

Substance use disorders and withdrawal

Ecstasy can be addictive. If people use too much ecstasy, they may become tolerant to the drug's effects. This means they need to take more and more of it to feel the drug's effects.

If a drug like ecstasy is suddenly stopped (withdrawn), the person can experience withdrawal symptoms. Drug cravings are one of the most common symptoms of withdrawal.

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