According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 16 million people have used ecstasy at some point in their life, and during the 2012 year, 869,000 people used ecstasy for the first time, far higher than the number of new LSD and PCP users combined. The number of new ecstasy users is also greater than the number of new users of cocaine, stimulants, and inhalants. The percentage of people who will use ecstasy sometime in their life is between 2 percent and 3.5 percent. The average age for first-time users was 20.3 years old, smack dab in the middle of the college years.
Ecstasy has been and remains primarily a college drug. Not only is it a college drug, it’s a college party drug. It is a hallucinogen, and users report increased energy and feelings of connectedness to others.
An article in the Suffolk Journal quotes a student, Steve, saying, “It’s everything. In your head, you’re happy with the position you’re in. Physically, things around you feel good, familiar. You feel what it is and enjoy it.”
Perfect for a party, right?
According to a fact sheet from The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention, ecstasy also creates short term effects including severe anxiety, paranoia, teeth clenching, and sweating. Longer term effects include impulsivity and damage to areas of the brain involved in thinking and memory. Additional dangers include the frequent combination of ecstasy with other drugs including heroin and methamphetamines, which can cause physical harm to long-term overall health.
In 2001, there were 76 deaths attributed to ecstasy use, most due to heatstroke associated with dancing to the point of dehydration and exhaustion. Additional deaths are attributed to hyponatremia—drinking too much water without accompanying salts, due to the fear of heatstroke while taking ecstasy.
The risks of the drug extend far past use of the drug itself. Ecstasy is commonly known as the “love drug” and consequences of this love drug include everything you might expect when young people have sex without the use of their best judgment, from unplanned pregnancies to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases to legal problems due to unclear consent. College-aged ecstasy users are more likely to have unprotected sex. This population also has a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS and herpes. Finally, ecstasy use leads to a higher rate of unwanted sex, especially in young women who take the drug.
Additionally, the use of ecstasy increases suicide risk. Also quoted in the Suffolk Journal article, a student named Ryan says, “It gives you a feeling of euphoria for four or five hours, but then you feel like shit when it’s over. You feel depressed. You shouldn’t take it if you’re already depressed. You’ll just feel worse.” A study from the National Institutes of Health confirms this observation, finding almost double the risk for suicide in young adults that had used the drug in the past year and writing that, “Adolescent ecstasy users may require enhanced suicide prevention and intervention efforts.”
No matter its name—ecstasy, X, E, molly, or others like love drug, dancing shoes, skittles, or beans—the fact of the drug is that it is an unpredictable mix of lab chemicals produced in uncontrolled labs around the world, likely designed for stimulation and hallucination. With ecstasy, you simply don’t know what you’re getting and so you can’t predict its effect. Every time you take ecstasy is a roll of the dice. Is it really worth it?
Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author with Constance Scharff of the book Ending Addiction for Good.