MDMA is often called ecstasy. It is an illegal drug frequently taken at parties, raves or music festivals.
You may believe that MDMA is a ‘safe’ drug, but it can have harmful short- and long-term effects. It is even possible to die from complications that arise from using it.
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MDMA is short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is made and sold illegally. MDMA has stimulant properties like amphetamine. It can also cause hallucinations.
MDMA is most often swallowed in tablets or capsules. Tablets vary in:
- amount of drug contained
Many tablets are stamped with official-looking names or logos. However, these stamps do not identify what is in the pills and they do not mean that the pills are safe.
MDMA is controlled under Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Activities such as sale, possession or production of MDMA are illegal unless authorized for medical, scientific or industrial purposes.
Short-term effects of MDMA
It takes about an hour for MDMA to reach the brain when you swallow it. The effects may then last from 3 to 6 hours.
Some of the less pleasant effects of MDMA may last up to 1 week or longer.
MDMA triggers the brain to release ‘feel-good’ chemicals (serotonin and dopamine). You may experience:
- increased physical energy and confidence
- feelings of pleasure and well-being (euphoria)
- sociability, friendliness and closeness with others (empathy)
However, when the pleasurable effects start to wear off you can experience:
- confusion or paranoia
- trouble concentrating
- panic attacks or anxiety
- delirium or hallucinations
You may also experience unpleasant physical effects. These include:
- decreased appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- seizures or convulsions
- teeth grinding and jaw pain
- dilated pupils and blurry vision
Long-term effects of MDMA
MDMA use can lead to long-term mental and physical effects.
During or after taking MDMA you may experience:
- mental confusion
Delusions and other psychotic symptoms may last for several days. These effects can linger for weeks in some people.
MDMA can increase your:
- heart rate
- blood pressure
Repeatedly using MDMA can also lead to:
- kidney or liver damage
- reduced interest in sex
- damaged brain cells and memory problems
- chronic exhaustion, fatigue and muscle aches
- decreased appetite and nausea, vomiting and weight loss
Using MDMA can be especially harmful if you have an existing condition such as:
- problems with your
Risks related to MDMA use
Pills sold as MDMA are often mixed with other substances. These can pose risks to your health and safety. Common additions include:
- anesthetics such as ketamine or PCP
- stimulants such as methamphetamine, amphetamine or cocaine
- novel psychedelic drugs (synthetic cathinones and 2C compounds)
There are also risks related to co-use with other illegal drugs or prescription medications. There have been reports of side effects, such as Serotonin syndrome, when using MDMA with:
- drugs used to treat HIV
MDMA raises your body temperature. This can lead to dehydration if you don’t drink enough water. This risk goes up if you take MDMA:
- during physical activity such as dancing
- in crowded places such as parties or music festivals
However, drinking too many fluids to compensate may lead to an imbalance of the electrically charged particles (electrolytes) that the body needs to function.
If you have a cardiac disease, the short-term effects of MDMA such as increased blood pressure and heart rate could be potentially harmful. They may cause strokes.
Because it can bring on euphoria, studies have found that people who use MDMA are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviours. This may increase their risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases.
Substance use disorders and withdrawal
MDMA can be addictive. If you use too much your body may become tolerant of the drug. This means you need to take more and more of it to feel the same effects.
MDMA is being studied for its potential to treat conditions such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These studies use medical-grade MDMA in clinically supervised settings.
Currently, there are no approved therapeutic products containing MDMA in Canada.
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