Ecstasy (A complete guide)

“3, 4-MDMA is known as ecstasy (E) or Molly. It is a synthetic, mind-altering drug primarily used for recreational purposes. Some of the known effects are: euphoria, raised energy levels, increased empathy and enhanced enjoyment from tactile experiences.”

What is Ecstasy?

3, 4-MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also known as ecstasy, is an artificial drug, first synthesized in 1912, which alters both mood and sensory perception (awareness and consciousness of surrounding objects and situations).

It produces a similar effect to amphetamine stimulants like shabu, and to psychedelic hallucinogens, causing feelings of augmented energy, pleasure, reduced inhibitions and distorted sensory and time perception. 

Its primary effects are within the brain on neurons that use the chemical monoamine neurotransmitter to communicate with alternative neurons.

The monoamine neurotransmitter system plays a crucial role in regulating mood, aggression, sexuality, sleep and sensitivity to pain.

What does ecstasy look and taste like?

Ecstasy originates in powder or crystal form as a white or off-white substance.

As a powder, it is known by its chemical name, MDMA. When it is pressed into a pill it is known as ecstasy.

Ecstasy pills are white or brightly colored and either round, square or pressed into just about any form.

Some pills have stamps sealed into them, for example of characters or animals.

Ecstasy pills are usually swallowed, whereas the powder/ crystal form is often rubbed into the user’s gums.

Both forms taste bitter and unpleasant.

How is ecstasy used?

People who use MDMA typically take it as a capsule or pill, although some crush the pills and snort or inhale them. 

People often take MDMA along with other substances such as alcohol or marijuana.

Some people report signs of addiction, together with the subsequent withdrawal symptoms:

• fatigue

• loss of appetite

• depression

• difficulty concentrating.

How does ecstasy affect the brain?

MDMA increases the activity of three brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, namely:

• Dopamine – creates augmented energy/activity as it helps control movement, emotions and pleasure sensations

• Norepinephrine – increases heart rate and blood pressure, which is particularly dangerous for people with circulation or heart problems

• Serotonin – affects mood, aggression and sexual appetite, sleep and pain awareness. It additionally triggers hormones which affect arousal and trust. The discharge of enormous amounts of 5-hydroxytryptamine probably causes the emotional closeness, elevated mood and empathy felt by those that use MDMA.

Other adverse effects include:

• nausea

• muscle cramping

• involuntary teeth clenching

• blurred vision

• chills

• sweating

• depression.

MDMA’s effects last for around three to six hours, though some users take a second dose as the effects of the primary dose begin to fade. 

Over the week following moderate use of the drug, an individual could experience:

• irritability

• impulsiveness and aggression

• depression

• sleep issues

• anxiety

• loss of memory

• decreased appetite

• decreased interest in, and pleasure from, sex.

It is possible that a number of these effects will be caused or heightened due to the combined use of MDMA with other substances, particularly marijuana.

Psychological Effects:

Psychological effects can include confusion, depression, sleep issues, drug desire and severe anxiety.

These issues can occur across the days or even weeks that follow taking the drug.


Research in animals links ecstasy exposure to long term effects in neurons that are concerned with mood, thought and judgment.

A study in mechanistic primates showed that exposure to the compound for less than four days caused injury to monoamine neurotransmitter nerve terminals that were evident half a dozen to seven years later.

Similar neurotoxicity has not been definitively shown in humans.

What are the different health effects of ecstasy?

High doses of MDMA will affect the body’s ability to manage temperature.

This can cause a spike in temperature which could damage the liver, kidney or exacerbate a heart condition. and sometimes death can occur.

As a result of MDMA promoting trust and physical closeness, its use, especially when combined with Viagra, may encourage unsafe sexual behavior.

This can increase the risk of getting or transmitting HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases.

More information on this can be found here. 

Added to the risks of taking MDMA is that pills, capsules or powders marketed as Ecstasy and purportedly “pure” could contain different substances rather than, or additional to, MDMA. 

Some pills often also contain other, more dangerous drugs which can take longer to take effect.

This is why people often take half or quarter of a pill first, and wait for the effects to kick in.

Taking additional pills to hasten the effect can result in overdose if the user is unaware of the slower reactions of the extra drugs still processing within their system.

The powder form is difficult to press into pills in pure form, which is why it is often cut with other substances.

During the early 1990s ecstasy had earned a reputation for being impure and combined with harmful chemicals.

Molly, another name for ‘molecular’, came along later and was marketed as a purer version. 

These additional substances can include bath salts, speed, caffeine or cocaine and it is most likely the user will not be aware of their presence.

These could then be mixed with other substances such as marijuana or alcohol, and the potential harmful effects are increased.

Is ecstasy addictive?

Research results vary on whether or not MDMA is addictive.

It has been shown that animals can self-administer MDMA, which is a vital indicator of a drug’s abuse potential, although to a lesser degree than other substances like cocaine.

Does MDMA have a use in therapy?

MDMA was first utilized in the 1970s as an associate degree aid in psychotherapy (mental disorder treatment exploitation “talk therapy”).

The drug did not have the support of clinical trials (studies using humans) or approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

In 1985, The US Drug Enforcement Administration tagged MDMA as an associate, ineligible drug with no recognized health application.

Some researchers remain curious about its value in psychotherapy if given to patients in fastidiously controlled conditions.

MDMA is presently in clinical trials as a viable treatment aid for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in terminally sick patients, along with social anxiety in unwell adults.

How do people get treatment for addiction to MDMA?

There aren’t any specific medical treatments for MDMA addiction.

Some people seeking treatment for MDMA addiction have found behavioral therapy, individual counselors or support groups to be useful.

How long does ecstasy remain in the body?

How long the consequences last and the drug stays in your system depends on a number of factors including how much you have taken, your size, whether or not you have eaten and whether you have combined it with any other substance.

How long does ecstasy take to kick in?

When taken orally, ecstasy normally takes around half an hour to kick in.

However, it might take as little as twenty minutes, or over an hour if additional (more dangerous) substances which take longer to have an effect have been cut with it but sold as ecstasy.

How long do the effects of ecstasy last?

Users tend to feel high for two to four hours.

They may still experience some physical effects, such as a quick heartbeat or difficulty sleeping for a couple of hours after feeling high – particularly if they have taken a larger quantity.

What are the after-effects of ecstasy?

Some people recognise that ecstasy makes them feel down and low in mood on the following day after taking it, called a ‘comedown’.

This can last for many days.

How long is ecstasy detectable in the body system? 

Ecstasy can normally be detected during a body waste check between one to four days after taking it.

How long a drug is detectable for depends on what quantity was taken and which testing kit is employed. 

Key points discussed in this article:

• 3, 4-MDMA (MDMA) is an artificial drug that alters mood and perception, with similar effects to stimulants and hallucinogens 

• MDMA is usually referred to as ecstasy, E or Molly

• people who use MDMA generally take it as a capsule or pill. Many people take it together with other substances

• MDMA acts by increasing the activity of three brain chemicals: Dopamine, Norepinephrine and Serotonin

• side-effects include augmented energy, distorted perception, involuntary teeth clenching, perilously high temperature, anxiety and depression.

• many people are unaware that purportedly pure ecstasy additionally usually contain not just pure MDMA but also different substances which could be especially dangerous once mixed with MDMA

• research results vary on whether or not MDMA is addictive, but some people do report signs of addiction

• Some people seeking treatment for MDMA addiction have found therapy to be useful. There are no specific medical treatments for MDMA addiction.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about ecstasy: 

What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy (also called MDMA) is a dangerous, prohibited drug that has effects just like those of amphetamines and hallucinogens.

How is ecstasy used?

MDMA is usually purchased in 100- to 150-mg tablets, with the active dose starting from fifty mg to as high as three hundred mg.

While most users ingest MDMA, some users dissolve the pure powder and either inject it into their veins or rub it onto their gums.

Is the drug ecstasy addictive?

MDMA encompasses a comparatively low addiction potential.

Reports of compulsive and daily use have appeared within medical literature.

It is clear that the drug is habit-forming for a few users, and may become over-important in people’s lives.

As a result, MDMA’s desired effects can decrease with continual use.

Daily use is not as common as for other substances.

What are the effects of the drug ecstasy, and how long do they last?

MDMA can take effect between twenty to forty minutes after taking it.

It produces very little rushes of pleasure that could be accompanied by nausea.

The user feels the greatest effect sixty to ninety minutes after taking the drug, and the effects usually last for three to six hours.

Low to moderate dosages users report that MDMA produces a heightened understanding and acceptance of others.

Users feel as if barriers disappear, that they feel less inhibited about showing emotion and less sexually pent-up.

Psychological effects include confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug desire, severe anxiety and psychosis.

These effects generally occur weeks after taking MDMA.

Does ecstasy cause psychiatric problems?

MDMA use can sometimes stimulate or intensify an existing psychiatric disorder.

Its use and, the user’s subsequent withdrawal from use, can cause psychiatric symptoms and mimic psychiatric syndromes. 

Does ecstasy have different effects on men and women?

The Women’s World Health Organization says that MDMA appears to apply additional negative mood changes, sleep disturbance and depletion of monoamine neurotransmitter and 5-hydroxytryptamine within the brain to those for men.

The drug conjointly can increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage.

Want to learn more about ecstasy? Try these recommended readings! 

Ecstasy: A Complete Guide. A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA

This book discusses the therapeutic potential of ecstasy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, pain and other chronic illnesses. It is also a credible source of information on the dangers of using ecstasy recreationally. 


MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). National Institute of Drug Abuse. June 2018

MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). NIDA for Teens. March 2019. 

Ecstasy. 2020. 

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