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How MDMA Affects The Brain and Body

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How MDMA Affects The Brain and Body

Written by Genesis Recovery

More than 18 million people in the United States have tried MDMA at least once in their lifetime. At first, the drug stimulates the mind, making you feel euphoric, energetic, and confident. MDMA also distorts your senses, seemingly making you more alert, self-aware, and empathetic. But in reality, MDMA is actually disrupting your brain’s chemical balance, dehydrating your body, stressing your heart, increasing your blood pressure, tightening your muscles, and even making you clench your teeth involuntarily. The longer and more frequently you use MDMA, the more the drug continues to affect your brain and body.

What is MDMA?

skulls depicting the side effects of mdma

MDMA is a synthetic drug developed by German chemist Anton Kollöisch in 1912. The substance, also known as “Ecstasy,” “Molly,” “E,” “X,” “XTC,” and “Adam,” combines the effects of amphetamine, a stimulant, and mescaline, a hallucinogen. Even though MDMA was historically investigated as a potential cure for internal bleeding and as a synthetic version of adrenaline, the Food & Drug Administration has categorized the drug as a Schedule I substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use.

Most people use MDMA in the form of a tablet or capsule, but the drug can also be a liquid or white powder. Ecstasy, the pill form of MDMA, usually comes in a small, colored tablet often imprinted with a brand logo or cartoon character. Despite the brightly colored tablets, MDMA tastes bitter. About 30 to 45 minutes after taking a tablet or capsule, you’ll begin to feel MDMA’s effects on your body. The effects peak 15 to 30 minutes after that and last for anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, even though you may still feel the effects days later. When the high ends, you’re left with the drug’s adverse effects.

How Does MDMA Work?

MDMA works by overstimulating three of your brain's neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters help regulate your mood, energy, appetite, emotions, sexual activity, and sleep patterns. By escalating the activity of each neurotransmitter, MDMA produces a temporary high that’s followed by short-term effects on the brain and body.

As both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, the MDMA high is like a stimulating “out-of-body” experience. MDMA users tend to feel mentally alert, energetic, empathetic, and confident. At the same time, using MDMA can make you nauseous, sweaty, dehydrated, and agitated. In addition to that, when your brain releases excessive amounts of neurotransmitters, these chemical messengers become depleted, causing long-term negative effects on your brain and body.

Long-term Effects of MDMA on the Brain

Like most illegal drugs, MDMA has some considerable effects on the brain. In addition to altering your mental state, MDMA can:

  • Diminish The Brain’s Natural Serotonin Production. According to a University of Liverpool study, even though MDMA initially boosts serotonin levels, the drug actually reduces serotonin production after the high ends. In fact, using MDMA can cause you to have diminished serotonin levels up to 7 years after taking the drug. Low levels of serotonin can trigger anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, and impulsive behavior. These symptoms can make you more likely to turn to MDMA for another high, perpetuating the cycle of addiction.
  • Increase Your Risk of Memory Problems. Using MDMA wears down the fibers in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. In fact, a study published in the journal Addiction reveals that MDMA users who take 10 or more ecstasy pills in a year frequently experience memory problems. The study also shows that even small recreational amounts of MDMA over a relatively short period of time can lead to memory impairments and short-term memory loss.
  • Change How Your Brain Processes Emotions & Information. PET scans of people who used MDMA and stopped have shown decreased brain activity in the prefrontal, parietal, and medial temporal cortices as well as the amygdala, cingulate, and hippocampus. These parts of the brain help you learn, memorize, and process emotions and information. Scientists continue to study MDMA’s effects on these parts of the brain, but prolonged use of the substance can change how you perceive emotional situations, increasing your risk of anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases, paranoia.

Prolonged Effects of MDMA on the Body

mdma sign depicting the risks

MDMA’s effects don’t stop with the brain. The drug can also permanently affect the way your body functions. MDMA can become extremely dangerous when the drug is mixed with other substances such as caffeine, ketamine, LSD, cocaine, meth, or butylone, a psychedelic and stimulant psychoactive drug.

Using MDMA can cause physical side effects such as:

  • Convulsions. MDMA’s boost of serotonin levels can trigger serotonin syndrome which increases your risk of tremors, convulsions, and seizures. People taking antidepressants along with MDMA may be even more at risk for convulsions and seizures because the medications increase serotonin levels which have already been enhanced by MDMA.
  • Hyperthermia. MDMA limits your body’s ability to regulate your temperature. The substance also causes dehydration. When you consume the drug and participate in vigorous activities such as dancing in a club or at a party, you’re more likely to develop hyperthermia, a condition in which your body temperature becomes too high. Even though hyperthermia is rare, when it happens it must be treated immediately because it can cause your muscles to breakdown, increasing your risk of kidney failure and heart trouble.
  • Cardiovascular problems. Regularly taking MDMA can cause your heart to stop functioning properly. MDMA can easily trigger heart attacks because the drug increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, and requires the heart to use more oxygen. MDMA users who combine the drug with other substances may have an even higher risk of cardiovascular trouble.
  • Liver failure. The toxins in MDMA inflame the liver, making you more likely to develop hepatitis. Once developed, hepatitis can cause cell death and scarring on the liver, resulting in cirrhosis and eventually causing liver failure.
  • Kidney failure. Stimulants like MDMA cause the body to retain urine. The pressure of retained urine can build up, stressing the kidneys and causing them to fail.

Helping You Recover Your Mind, Body & Soul

Using MDMA can start out as a seemingly harmless way to have fun, but regular use of the drug can negatively affect your brain and body. Luckily, we designed our comprehensive treatment programs to help restore your brain balance, physical strength, and holistic health.

Here at Genesis Recovery, you’ll experience evidence-based clinical treatment and a supportive community rooted in the 12-step program and holistic practices. Our mission is to restore lives broken and wounded by addiction. Let us help you get there. Call us today at 619-797-7319 if you or a loved one are grappling with substance use challenges.

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