MDMA, or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a popular party drug in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 17 million people reported using the drug at some point in their lifetimes. It’s popularly known as Molly when it’s the chemical in its pure form, or when it’s claimed to be in pure form.
Ecstasy is MDMA that’s been mixed with amphetamines or caffeine. The drug is used to produce euphoric feelings and feelings of increased sociability due to its empathogenic effects.
Ecstasy works by affecting chemical messengers in your brain, primarily serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that’s related to appetite, sleep, memory, learning, and mood. The mood-altering effects of serotonin effects are what MDMA users are typically seeking out.
Serotonin is sometimes called a “feel-good chemical” because it elevates one’s mood and brings about positive emotions such as affection, interpersonal closeness, satisfaction, and general happiness.
It’s released in your brain when you make positive personal connections, and when you have romantic feelings, which may be why people feel heightened empathy and social connection when using MDMA.
MDMA also causes the release of other feel-good chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. These increase the positive feelings of the drug. Ecstasy, which includes stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines, may heighten feelings of excitement and alertness.
Ecstasy can also raise your body temperature. When this happens, excessive sweating and dehydration occur if users don’t drink enough fluids. After about three to eight hours, the drug starts to wear off, and an unpleasant comedown follows. Typically, it lowers your mood, and you may experience depression. This happens because serotonin has been released all at once, and your brain needs to produce more. It may also cause headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.
Since ecstasy primarily affects chemicals in the brain that relate to mood, you are most likely going to experience psychological symptoms during withdrawal. However, some physical symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, and even lockjaw can occur.
If you used MDMA for a while, you might experience powerful drug cravings that can compel you to use the drug again. Serotonin and dopamine are tied to reward, so they may cause the reward center of the brain to mistake drug use for healthy activities it’s designed to encourage, such as eating and drinking. Other ecstasy withdrawal symptoms may include:
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The drug’s effects will start to wear off after three to eight hours after last use. At that point, initial comedown effects may begin. You may notice that your mood will begin to lower, and you may feel tiredness that’s similar to a caffeine crash.
You’ll start to feel significant withdrawal symptoms within 12 hours. Symptoms like depression and drug cravings are the most common. The stimulant drugs added to ecstasy can worsen feelings of fatigue and lethargy during withdrawal. As symptoms peak, they will start to go away.
Most symptoms will have dissipated within a week and 10 days. Some psychological symptoms like irritability, drug cravings, and depression may linger. In some cases, these symptoms need treatment to address effectively.
If you’ve developed a severe substance use disorder, cravings may come and go indefinitely. Other mental health problems like depression may persist until they are addressed in treatment.
Medical detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. It involves a 24-hour medically managed treatment for about five to 10 days. It’s intended to help people with high-level needs who are seeking addiction treatment for potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
MDMA is not known to cause life-threatening withdrawal-like some substances can, but it can cause unpleasant symptoms. In some cases, symptoms can worsen co-occurring medical problems.
Ecstasy withdrawal can also cause cravings that can be challenging for some people to resist. Seeking medical help through detox can ensure that you don’t relapse in a moment that you experience strong cravings.
Medical detox can also help treat medical issues that need to be addressed alongside addiction and withdrawal. Diseases and injuries that need ongoing treatment can be managed in detox once they are stabilized.
Luckily, the level of care you need can be determined with the help of medical professionals and intake specialists. When you first enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an assessment process that’s designed to help find the best level of care for your needs.
If it’s determined that you don’t need medical detox, or if you’ve already completed detox, you may continue on to the next level of care. Detox is an important part of recovery, but it may not be all you need to achieve lasting sobriety.
If you continue to have high-level medical needs, you may continue to inpatient or residential treatment where you continue to receive 24-hour care.
Once you can safely live on your own, you can move on to intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment.
Through each level of care, you will be able to address underlying issues that contribute to your addiction and learn relapse prevention strategies to help safeguard your treatment.
If you or someone you know has been using MDMA or ecstasy and might be developing a substance use disorder, it’s important to seek treatment options as soon as possible. Addiction is a chronic disease that tends to get worse over time. Even if it feels like it’s under control, it may start to take over different parts of your life before you realize it. Severe substance use disorders can have an effect on your health, financial, and personal relationships. However, addiction is treatable with the right services. Addiction treatment can help you avoid some of the worst symptoms of long-term addiction. But it can also address addictions that you may have struggled with for years. To begin your road to recovery, learn more about ecstasy addiction and how it can be treated.
Bergland, C. (2012, November 29). The Neurochemicals of Happiness. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201211/the-neurochemicals-happiness
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, February 28). Tetanus | Symptoms and Complications | Lockjaw | CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tetanus/about/symptoms-complications.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017, September). What is the scope of MDMA use in the United States? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse/what-is-the-scope-of-mdma-use-in-the-united-states
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasymolly