Ecstasy is a form of MDMA, a synthetic stimulant commonly seen at parties, nightclubs and festivals. It is known as a ‘party drug’ due to its euphoric effects that can induce feelings of confidence and happiness for a short period of time.
Other names for ecstasy include Molly, E, Malcom and X. There are some differences between ecstasy and Molly, namely in appearance – Molly is sold as a white powder and is marketed as a pure version of MDMA, while ecstasy is manufactured in pill form.
While commonly seen as a safe substance used to enhance a specific experience, ecstasy can have dangerous consequences with the prolonged use of this drug potentially resulting in addiction or even loss of life.
Is ecstasy addictive?
The link between ecstasy and addiction is less concrete than with other substances such as heroin and cocaine, and there is currently no definitive answer as to whether ecstasy is addictive.
While studies show that animals choose to self-administer MDMA (a key sign of addiction) they repeat this behaviour less often than with other, more addictive substances.  This could suggest that while ecstasy is addictive, it is less addictive than many other drugs.
While ecstasy appears to have a similar effect on the brain as these other substances, it is still not clear as to the extent of these effects and more research is needed to determine the potential for addiction with MDMA.
How does ecstasy work?
Ecstasy can induce feelings of euphoria, confidence and empathy. Many people report feeling closer and more connected to the people around them and often experience heightened sensations which are often amplified by the setting, as ecstasy is commonly taken at parties, nightclubs and festivals.
Taking ecstasy causes the brain to release large amounts of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine into the system, which is what leads to these euphoric and pleasant feelings. An ecstasy high will usually last for three to six hours, taking effect in roughly 30 minutes.
As such an excessive amount of these chemicals are released, the brain can quickly become depleted which is why ecstasy users commonly report an extreme crash when the effects of this substance wear off.
Common symptoms of an ecstasy crash include:
- Extreme irritability
- Feelings of exhaustion
- Depression and anxiety
- Trouble concentrating
These symptoms will usually abate within a week, although this can be extended or decreased depending on the amount of ecstasy ingested and the frequency of use.
The effects of ecstasy can be enhanced and prolonged when combined with other substances such as alcohol and caffeine, but this can lead to overdose and even death.
Ecstasy use – what are the laws?
Ecstasy is classified as a Class A illegal substance under UK law. It is illegal to buy, possess, use, supply and manufacture this drug under any circumstances. 
If you are found guilty of the possession of ecstasy you could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. The laws for supply and manufacture are even more severe, with offenders facing up to life in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
A prison sentence relating to drugs can have long-lasting effects on your life – you may be unable to travel to certain countries or find employment within specific fields.
The sentence will depend on a range of factors including how much ecstasy you were found with, whether you intended to sell this substance and your personal criminal history. If you are under 18, the police are legally allowed to inform your parents that you have been found in possession of ecstasy.
Ecstasy and poly-drug use
The use of multiple substances at once is known as poly-drug use, and studies have shown that this is more common in ecstasy users than in any other substance users.
One study examined the poly-drug usage within a group of regular ecstasy users, with only 1 in 10 preferring to take ecstasy individually. The other group members reported combining ecstasy with other substances such as cannabis, alcohol and methamphetamines in order to prolong and increase the effects of this drug. 
As ecstasy is frequently ingested at parties and nightclubs, other substances may be more readily available in these situations which could partly explain the increased poly-drug use within ecstasy users. Many people believe that this substance may be a gateway to more extreme drugs such as ketamine and GHB.
While common practice, using other substances in tandem with ecstasy can be extremely dangerous. It can increase the risk of overdose and in severe cases may even lead to death.
Can you overdose on ecstasy?
With so many people using ecstasy at parties and nightclubs, it may appear to be reasonably safe. However, it is possible to overdose on ecstasy, particularly when combined with other substances.
As ecstasy is an illegal substance, it is manufactured in unregulated laboratories with few safety checks. Even if you have built a relationship with a dealer, it is impossible to know the exact ingredients in an ecstasy pill and manufacturers will often add extra components in order to bulk out the amount. These ingredients could include rat poison, cocaine, caffeine and heroin, all of which could be lethal when combined with other substances.
Some manufacturers will sell a form of ecstasy that contains no MDMA at all, with users unknowingly ingesting paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA) instead. This substance produces a similar effect to MDMA but has a much lower lethal dose limit, increasing the chances of an accidental overdose.
As mentioned above, it is fairly common to combine ecstasy with other drugs such as alcohol and methamphetamine. The resulting effects can be extremely harmful to the body and increase the risk of overdose. Ecstasy use can also result in severe dehydration, which can be fatal if not properly treated. It can also cause intense thirst which may result in the individual drinking large amounts of water, increasing the risk of brain damage caused by over-hydration.
Common symptoms of an ecstasy overdose include:
- Sudden high temperature
- Feeling faint and dizzy
- Foaming at the mouth
- High blood pressure
- Becoming unconscious
If you suspect that someone is suffering from an ecstasy overdose, call 999 and seek medical help immediately. Make sure to inform the medical team of any substances that the individual has taken, even if they are illegal. This information will allow the medics to perform the appropriate treatment and potentially save their life.
What are the signs and symptoms of an ecstasy addiction?
While an ecstasy addiction may not cause obvious physical changes to an individual’s appearance, it can still result in a number of physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms.
If you have attempted to reduce or completely stop your ecstasy use and have been unable to do so, or continue to use ecstasy despite experiencing negative consequences, you may be dealing with an addiction. Another sign of addiction is requiring a larger and/or more frequent dose of ecstasy in order to experience the same effects – this shows that your body has built up a tolerance to the substance, which is a further sign of addiction.
Physical symptoms of an ecstasy addiction include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Compulsive teeth grinding
- Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Chronic dehydration
- Frequent headaches
- Heart palpitations
- Blurred vision
Psychological symptoms of an ecstasy addiction include:
- Intense paranoia
- Low self-esteem
- Frequent mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks
- Extreme depression and anxiety
- Confusion and disorientation
- Lowered inhibitions
- Thoughts of suicide and self-harm
Behavioural symptoms of an ecstasy addiction include:
- Using ecstasy during regular life instead of restricting it to partying
- Becoming withdrawn and secretive
- Denying that there is a problem
- Being dishonest and deceitful
- Constantly thinking about obtaining and using ecstasy
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, home and school in favour of using ecstasy
- Only socialising with others who take ecstasy
- Stealing or borrowing money in order to purchase ecstasy
- Attempting to reduce or completely stop the use of ecstasy but being unable to
- Experiencing negative consequences due to the use of ecstasy but continuing to use it
- Engaging in risky behaviour such as driving under the influence of ecstasy or having unprotected sex
What are the long-term effects of an ecstasy addiction?
While ecstasy is often seen as a harmless party drug, the effects of long-term MDMA use can be severely detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Studies have shown that the prolonged use of ecstasy can result in long-term cognitive problems including memory loss and chronic psychosis, all of which can have a negative impact on an individual’s present and future prospects. Even the most subtle effects can be exacerbated with age, becoming more apparent over time and potentially causing additional problems. 
Long-term effects of an ecstasy addiction include:
- Brain damage
- Depression and anxiety
- Kidney failure
- Heart problems
- Memory loss
- Legal and financial troubles
- Strained relationships with friends, family and colleagues
- Loss of employment