Walking into a club on a Friday night, sights of people squinting their eyes, bouncing their heads to the beat and sucking on anything that enters their mouth can be seen. Among many of the first sights, images of people starring at magnificent light shows and dazed by the rapid yet graceful movements of dancing ravers may become apparent. One may wonder what that person has taken that has made them look and feel so happy; that person is on Ecstasy. The fact is a wide range of young adults are using Ecstasy, while they don't know how badly their body is being affected.
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), the chemical name for Ecstasy, was first discovered in Germany in 1913 and patented by an international pharmaceutical company called Merck in 1914. Its first use was intended to be a weight loss drug because of its ability to suppress the need to eat or drink.
However, the drug was not a popular product on the market therefore Merck let the patent expire. Later, in the mid 1960's, marriage guidance counselors used Ecstasy as a therapeutic tool during sessions because of its ability to increase social interaction. Prior uses were legal nonetheless undoubtedly harmful but the real problem started when the drug began to be used non-medically under the name Ecstasy in the late 1980's. Both the non-medical and therapeutic use of MDMA was made illegal in 1985 due to the fact that the DEA found the drug harmful to lab animals.
Most of the world's Ecstasy is trafficked in through Europe. Attracted by the profits associated with Ecstasy, traffickers smuggle the drug from the Netherlands and Belgium to markets in neighboring countries and internationally. "Overseas MDMA trafficking organizations smuggle the drug in shipments of 10,000 or more tablets via express mail services, couriers aboard commercial airline flights, or, more recently, through air freight shipments from several major European cities to cities in the United States" said the Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.). Once the Ecstasy is safely delivered, it is then sold in bulk to big time dealers, who in turn sell it in smaller quantities to other local dealers. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency Ecstasy costs only 50 cents to make and is sold to dealers anywhere from $6-$8, who then sell it for $20-$40. It is extremely difficult to stop the sale of Ecstasy because there is such a high demand for it, and the profit margin is so great that people will always desire to sell it.
The "love drug," as MDMA is sometimes referred to as, has spread from its previously isolated dwellings within the darkness of the "rave" scene, an all-night illicit dance party, into high schools across the United States. The typical user is a white person from a good home who has the money to afford this expensive drug. "Any adult or child with a couple of measly dollars can purchase any existing illegal drug almost anywhere in the country." (Greer) These users range in age anywhere from a freshman in high school to someone in there 20's. To provide a general perception of the dramatic increase in the drug's use, here is a statement from on of the top drug enforcement directors in the United States: The White House's drug policy director, Gen. Barry R. McCaffreyÃ¢ÂÂ¦warned that Ecstasy was posing a particularly serious threat to children. He cited a nationally recognized survey showing a sharp rise in the number of high school seniors who said they had used Ecstasy in the previous month from 1.5 percent in 1998 to 2.5 percent in the following year. He followed by saying "The use of Ecstasy has skyrocketed." (Hernandez A21) Ecstasy is currently being used among every type of person. Some social groups include "rockers", "ravers" and "preppies" typical of the adolescent or teenage denomination. When the drug first hit the club scene, it stayed among the club users. But now the drug has moved from clubs and raves to almost everywhere else that people engage in social activities. It is used virtually any place possible for example, on dates, at friend's homes or at parties.
Once having used before, the desire to use Ecstasy is so strong that some people form an addiction. The first time someone takes Ecstasy, the experience is said to be the best because your body has no tolerance to the drug, making the person "trip" or feel the effects more intensely. "Everything makes you feel great, nothing could go wrong, your on top of the world and have a smile ear to ear," says Brian Zerega, a senior at Curtis High School in Staten Island, New York who recently was a first time user.
People take Ecstasy because they know that it will make them feel better than they normally do. For some, it changes their personality making them more outgoing. Others take it because they normally don't dance at a club and Ecstasy gives them the social edge they never had. It is also a drug that is thought to be less harsh than cocaine or heroin, which are seriously harmful and addictive. People that are taking Ecstasy at parties use it for the feeling of euphoria and ability to party for longer amounts of time without tiring. . "For many, it suppresses the need to eat, drink, or sleep, enabling users to party all night or even for days at a time," said Shari B. Lampert, a medical writer. Some even take Ecstasy for its first intended use: as a supplement to lose weight.
Many people have taken Ecstasy without realizing some of the short-term effects. When a person uses MDMA, there is an increase in serotonin levels within the brain that can cause psychological effects on the body. Ecstasy is reinforcing; which means that the pleasurable effects will increase the likelihood of a person to take it again. Few drugs are able to produce desirable feelings without side effects. Ecstasy is no exception, and there are several side effects that can occur, especially if exposure and doses increase and become more frequent. Some people who take only one pill may have little to no psychological effects which include clouded thinking, agitation and disturbed behavior. While other people might experience effects such as sweating, dry mouth, increased heart rate, fatigue, muscle spasms, and hypothermia. Ecstasy can cause hypothermia because the drug disrupts the ability of the brain to regulate body temperature. This is mostly caused when the user is in a hot environment and engaging in intense physical activities, such as dancing. Taking just one pill can cause all of these symptoms and the effects are heightened with larger doses.
After taking Ecstasy over a long period of time it can cause very serious long-term effects. An NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) study provided the first evidence that chronic users of Ecstasy have suffered from brain damage. A researcher, Dr. Ricaurte from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, says, "Our immediate concern is that people who use MDMA recreationally are unwillingly putting themselves at a risk of developing brain injury" (Radford). The part of the brain that is being disrupted is the part that transmits serotonin to the body. Serotonin is a biochemical in the brain that has several critical functions. It controls learning, sleeping, and integration of emotion. Serotonin makes people happy and Ecstasy raises the level of serotonin in the brain. What users don't know is that after their high the level of serotonin in their brain never replenishes itself to its full capability. This could result in the user going into a deep depression. The long-term effects can be extremely detrimental. Users of the drug will be more likely to have a higher incidence of depression in life. MDMA damages the nerves in the brain that release serotonin, which plays a role in mood, memory, pain perception, sexual desire, sleep, and appetite. These effects are less damaging than the physical dependencies caused by heroin and cocaine, but they are far from healthy. (Radford) Another long-term effect of the drug is anxiety caused by damage to the brain. Ecstasy also kills brain cells resulting in the loss of memory. Another research study done by NIDA linked MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. One study, in primates, showed that exposure to MDMA for 4 days caused brain damage that was evident 6 to 7 years later.