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Substance misuse

MDMA/Ecstasy: Understanding the risks

A group of young adults sit together on a bed in a cosy bedroom. One holds a glass in their hands. Overlaid is text that reads: "Drugs Awareness Poster Hub".

Substance misuse is an issue which cuts across our organisation and we have worked with frontline staff at our Young People’s Substance Misuse service to produce downloadable resources that anyone working with young people, or who would like to know more about emerging trends, can download, print off and share.

What is MDMA?

MDMA is the official chemical name for the pure chemical compound. 3,4 methylenedioxy methamphetamine or more commonly known as ecstasy (E). It is a psychoactive drug.

MDMA/Ecstasy may commonly be called: ‘Molly’, ‘Mandy’, ‘Pills’, ‘XTC’, ‘Beans’ or ‘Doves’

MDMA/Ecstasy is a “psychedelic” stimulant drug usually sold as tablets, but is sometimes dabbed on to gums or snorted in its powder form. MDMA/Ecstasy is a drug that is used recreationally because of the way it can make people feel euphoric and empathetic. Users may take it to feel energised, happy or to stay awake and dance for hours. The effects take about half an hour to kick in and tend to last between 3 to 6 hours, followed by a gradual comedown.

Ecstasy is often taken at music festivals (often multi-day events with multiple artists), nightclubs, raves (large dance parties), or house parties.

Ecstasy pills are swallowed and come in different shapes, colours and sizes and are often imprinted with a picture or symbols, but they it can also come in the form of capsules, powder or crystal.

There is no safe level of drug use. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

The Law

MDMA/Ecstasy is a Class A controlled substance, which means it is illegal to buy or supply. If you are caught, you could be sentenced to 7 years for possession, up to life in prison for supply and an unlimited fine or both.

Ten things you need to know

  1. MDMA/Ecstasy is a Class A controlled substance, which means it is illegal to buy or supply. If you are caught, you could be sentenced to 7 years for possession, up to life in prison for supply and an unlimited fine or both.
  2. MDMA affects hormonal activity in the brain of at least three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The uptake of serotonin from MDMA significantly affect mood, sleep, appetite, and emotional health and wellbeing.
  3. Tablets contain varying amounts/strengths; some are drug mixes or could be fake. Regardless of what it looks like or what it is called, you cannot be sure what is in a pill or powder and you cannot predict how you will react.
  4. After taking ecstasy, users may feel very tired and low and need a long periods of sleep to recover. This may last up to three or four days and is known as a comedown.
  5. When ecstasy has been cut with an alternative stimulant that may be slower to kick in than MDMA, some users may then top up with another dose prematurely and find they suffer side effects and may suffer an overdose.
  6. The number of people that die from ecstasy use is low compared to drugs such as heroin, cocaine, alcohol and tranquillizers. Nonetheless, a number of people in the UK do die from deaths related to ecstasy or ecstasy-type drugs every year.
  7. Drug dealers will often mix the drug with other substances because they may be cheaper to produce to increase the dealer’s profits – increasing the risks for users.
  8. MDMA can cause anxiety or panic attacks, and leave you feeling disorientated or confused.
  9. The drug can push up your body temperature to what could be life-threatening levels, which is made worse by hot clubs and dancing. MDMA-related deaths are often due to heatstroke, heart failure or drinking too little or too much water.
  10. The effects of taking ecstasy with other drugs − including over-the-counter or prescribed medications − can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Symptoms of MDMA overdose

Symptoms of MDMA overdose include anxiety and paranoia, hallucinations, restlessness or agitation, very high blood pressure, chest pain, rapid breathing, irregular
or fast heartbeat, hypothermia—a dangerous overheating of the body, fainting spells, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

If you have used MDMA and you’re feeling unwell or notice someone else is unwell whilst using, after using or after stopping using MDMA , then seek medical attention urgently. Contact 111 for urgent medical advice or 999 in an emergency.

Symptoms of MDMA withdrawal

MDMA withdrawal symptoms can include depression, confusion, anxiety, cravings, agitation, paranoia, insomnia, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, memory problems, and changes in self-perception.

Catch22 Young People’s Substance Misuse services offer free and confidential advice and support to young people aged between 11 and 25. We can provide you with information about the risks and effects of alcohol or drugs. We are here to listen and can work with you to achieve the changes you would like to make in your life.