The State of Addiction : Ecstasy Facts and Fiction

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MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that is chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. MDMA produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth, and distortions in time, perception, and tactile experiences.

MDMA is taken orally, usually as a capsule or tablet. It was initially popular among Caucasian adolescents and young adults in the nightclub scene or at weekend-long dance parties known as raves. More recently, the profile of the typical MDMA user has changed, with the drug now affecting a broader range of ethnic groups. MDMA is also popular among urban gay males—some report using MDMA as part of a multiple-drug experience that includes marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, sildenafil (Viagra), and other legal and illegal substances.

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In 2009, an estimated 760,000 people (0.3 percent of the population) in the United States aged 12 or older used MDMA in the month prior to being surveyed. Lifetime use increased significantly among individuals aged 12 years or older, from 4.3 percent (10.2 million) in 2002 to 5.7 percent (14.2 million) in 2009; however, past-year use of ecstasy decreased from 1.3 percent to 1.1 percent during the same period. Approximately 1.1 million Americans used ecstasy for the first time in 2009, which is a significant increase from the 894,000 first-time users reported in 2008.(source :National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)***)

How Does MDMA Affect the Brain?
MDMA exerts its primary effects in the brain on neurons that use the chemical (or neurotransmitter) serotonin to communicate with other neurons. The serotonin system plays an important role in regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. MDMA binds to the serotonin transporter, which is responsible for removing serotonin from the synapse (or space between adjacent neurons) to terminate the signal between neurons; thus MDMA increases and prolongs the serotonin signal. MDMA also enters the serotonergic neurons via the transporter (because MDMA resembles serotonin in chemical structure) where it causes excessive release of serotonin from the neurons. MDMA has similar effects on another neurotransmitter—norepinephrine, which can cause increases in heart rate and blood pressure. MDMA also releases dopamine, but to a much lesser extent.
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