Almost Everyone who has ever tried Ecstasy has had the same experience
Because it is so consistent in a way that previous psychedelic drugs have not been, Ecstasy is not frightening for most users. Ecstasy opens the doors of perception just enough to allow a little exploration, without the blinding, terrifying intensity of LSD, mescaline or even psilocybin.
The Ecstasy Experience can be very Spiritual.
For many, Ecstasy is a way to open up and express feelings for which they don't otherwise have the courage, nerves or words. For others it's just plain fun.
Most teenagers and young adults today take Ecstasy to rave. Raves are often all weekend events held in clubs, warehouses or outdoor settings and open fields. Most any music sounds great on Ecstasy, but all-night high-energy dance parties of techno, hardcore and trance music rules at raves. The atmosphere is usually friendly and peaceful, while the mood is well captured by the rave motto, P.L.U.R., or "Peace, Love, Understanding and Respect". In the dark clubs, the enchanting atmosphere is enhanced with lasers, strobe lights, glow sticks and artificial fog.
There are a lot of other slang terms for Ecstasy, which is really MDMA, for example you might also hear it called E, XTC, X, Adam, hug, beans, clarity, lover's speed and love drug.
Ecstasy pills bought at the rave typically cost between between 10 and 25 dollars. The tablets of MDMA are stamped with distinctive logos of unicorns, elephants, moons, stars or other trending designs. This is because MDMA manufacturers and dealers want to promote their brand and regular customers.
The History of MDMA - from Adam to Ecstasy
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), better known today as Ecstasy, was first synthesized in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck.
MDMA's parent and longer-acting metabolite, MDA (3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine) was one of a number of agents used in clandestine US military research during the 1950s and in CIA's Project MK-Ultra, which was investigating new techniques of brainwashing, espionage and mind-control. It also became popular as "the love drug" in the counterculture of the 1960s.
Ecstasy first gained prominence in the late 1970s when the legendary Californian psychedelic chemist Alexander ("Sasha") Shulgin synthesized and taste-tested MDMA at incrementally ascending doses. The effects of a 120mg dose of MDMA are recorded in Dr Shulgin's lab-notes (Sept 1976):
"I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great or believed this to be possible. The cleanliness, clarity, and marvelous feeling of solid inner strength continued throughout the rest of the day and evening. I am overcome by the profundity of the experience..."
Later, in 1991, Dr Shulgin and his wife Ann published Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story, which describes the synthesis and systematic testing on human subjects of a range of novel or neglected phenethylamine research drugs.
By the early 1980s, over a thousand private psychotherapists in the USA were using MDMA in their clinical practice. MDMA was commonly known as "Adam", an allusion to "being returned to the natural state of innocence before guilt, shame and unworthiness arose". MDMA was used discreetly; no one wanted a re-run of the 60s. Dr Shulgin himself reportedly felt MDMA came closest to fulfilling his ambition of finding the perfect psychotherapeutic drug.
Inevitably word leaked out. MDMA was profiled by the San Francisco Chronicle as "The Yuppie Psychedelic" (June 1984). In Newsweek, "High on 'Ecstasy" (April 1985) J Adler, paralleled his MDMA experience to "a year of therapy in two hours". Harpers Bazaar described MDMA as "the hottest thing in the continuing search for happiness through chemistry".
In the early 1980s, American production of MDMA beyond the research laboratory was effectively controlled by chemists known as the "Boston Group". Mass-production of MDMA soon mushroomed. Ecstasy was distributed openly in bars and nightclubs in Dallas and Fort Worth. It could be purchased via toll-free 800-numbers by credit card. The drug was even marketed via pyramid-style selling-schemes. Ecstasy could be bought in little bottles at convenience stores under the label "Sassyfras".
The DEA reacted by petitioning to have MDMA banned altogether. In 1985 the drug-warriors succeeded in having MDMA made Schedule One, the most restricted of all drug categories. MDMA had allegedly "no legitimate medical use or manufacturer" in the USA and it carried a "high potential for abuse". But by then MDMA's fame had already spread to Europe. MDMA had metamorphosed from "Adam", the psychotherapeutic tool, to "Ecstasy", the party drug.
Soon production and distribution of the world's leading empathogen-entactogen fell into the hands of organised crime. By the turn of the millennium, perhaps 80-90% of the world's MDMA was manufactured in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Early in the twenty-first century, an estimated several million people worldwide were taking Ecstasy and allied research chemicals each month on college campuses, in high schools and on dance-floors. Purity varies; perhaps 10%-15% of tablets consumed contain MDMA as the sole active ingredient. Illicit knowledge of the "penicillin of the soul" is spreading rapidly around the world, but in corrupt and contaminated form.
The Ecstasy Experience
Pure MDMA salt is a white crystalline solid. It looks white and tastes bitter. The optimal adult dose ranges from perhaps 75mg to as much as 250mg. Pills sold in clubs often contain less. There are gender differences in response; proportionately to body-weight, women are normally more sensitive than men to the effects of Ecstasy, so their optimal dosage may be lower. MDMA is usually taken orally as a tablet, a capsule, or a powder. More rarely, the drug is snorted, smoked or injected.
First-time Ecstasy users occasionally feel confused or anxious before dopamine-release kicks in. A slight hint of nausea is common when coming up. The user's peak experience or plateau phase after the elating dopamine "rush" doesn't last much more than ninety minutes to two hours. Though MDMA's primary effects wear off after only three or four hours, there could be a lingering sleeplessnes that can continue as long as eight to twelve hours, depending on the amount and quality taken.
Central to the Ecstasy experience is a warm-hearted, loving, connected, live-and-let live feeling. It enables a person to open up socially, emotionally and spiritually.
Ecstasy has been described as a drug that "could be all things to all people" (Dr Shulgin). Even so, MDMA's primary effects on the user are surprisingly consistent, unlike the wilder psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, or DMT.
Ecstasy may feel mystical, magical or sublime; but it doesn't feel weird. The drug's influence feels highly controllable. It tends to enrich the user's sense of self-identity, not diminish it. Users feel they can introspectively "touch inside" to their ideal authentic self with total emotional self-honesty.
As well as acting as a "gateway to the soul", MDMA "opens up the heart". Taking Ecstasy induces an amazing feeling of closeness and connectedness to one's fellow human beings. MDMA triggers intense emotional release beyond the bounds of everyday experience. The drug also enhances the felt intensity of the senses - most exquisitely perhaps the sense of touch. The body-image looks and feels wonderful. Other people look and feel wonderful too. Minutes after dropping a pill, a lifetime of Judaeo-Christian guilt, shame or disgust at the flesh melt away to oblivion.
Ecstasy is sensuous and sensual in its effects without being distinctively sexual. Although once dubbed "lover's speed", MDMA is proverbially more of a hugdrug than a lovedrug: "I kissed someone I was in love with and almost felt as if I was going to pass out from the intensity", recalls one American clubber.
However, MDMA's capacity to dissolve a lifetime's social inhibitions, prudery and sexual hang-ups means that lovemaking while under its spell is not uncommon. Superfluous clothes tend to get shed.
To increase MDMA-induced sexual performance, many Romeos increasingly combine Ecstasy with Viagra. Calling it "Sexstasy," unless carefully premeditated this is not a recipe for safe sex, as MDMA may sometimes cause "inappropriate bonding". Caution should be exercised before taking it with ex-girlfriends, boyfriends or culturally inappropriate love-objects.
When Ecstasy is taken outdoors, the natural world seems vibrant and awe-inspiring, perhaps even enchanted. The experience of colour is gorgeously intensified. On MDMA, Dr Shulgin reported how mountains he'd observed many times before appeared to be so beautiful that he could barely stand looking at them. Ecstasy is not normally used by spiritual practitioners of widely diverse beliefs as a gateway to the divine like psylocibin or mescalin, but some Ecstasy users undergo life-changing spiritual experiences.
Nicholas Saunders, author of the book, E for Ecstasy, writes about a Benedictine monk who finds Ecstasy "opens up a direct channel to God". MDMA may not be "Christ in (al)chemical form", but if it had been present in the Eucharist, then they would all still be devout Christians, possibly for ever. A minority of first-time Ecstasy users undergo what the inventor of the Shulgin scale named a "Plus Four."
Plus Four is a transcendental state often called a "peak experience," a "religious experience," "divine transformation," a "state of Samadhi" and many other names in other cultures. It is a state of bliss, a participation mystique, a connectedness with both the interior and exterior universes, which has come about after the ingestion of a psychedelic drug, but which is not necessarily repeatable with a subsequent ingestion of the same drug such as LSD or MDMA. If a drug (or technique or process) were ever to be discovered which would consistently produce a Plus Four experience in all human beings, it is conceivable that it would signal the ultimate evolution, and perhaps the end of human suffering.
Plus Four experiences are rare, today. But on MDMA, even the most jaded and world-weary soul with a tin-ear for poetry may "see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour."
On pure MDMA, subjects feel at peace with themselves and the world. They discover an enhanced sense of self-worth, self-forgiveness and complete self-acceptance. Cynical thoughts and negative feelings disappear. Aspects of life normally too sensitive to talk about can be explored freely. Heightened feeling allows long-forgotten and repressed emotional memories from childhood to be retrieved with unusual ease. In some settings, painful, highly-charged and even hitherto unmentionable problems may be discussed with (rose-tinted) candour. On MDMA, a lifetime of accumulated psychological barriers and defence-mechanisms often go down, somehow magicked out of existence with the pill. Ingrained anger, irritability and fear dissolve if only for a few hours. Like LSD, psylosybin and mescalin users, Ecstasy users tell each other affectionately what beautiful people they are; and they do so from the depths of their hearts.
The Dangers of the State of Mind during Ecstasy Use
The clarity and unique psychological effects of MDMA can be impaired by ethyl alcohol. Thus MDMA is best taken while completely sober, though a modest drink later to ease any comedown may be useful.
MDMA is sometimes described as a cross between an amphetamine stimulant and a mild hallucinogen. Since it does include a methoxylated amphetamine, MDMA is structurally related to mescaline. An important concept in the use of mind-altering drugs, particularly the psychedelics, is the state of mind of the user and the circumstances in which he or she is taking the drug. The setting, mood and frame of mind the users find themselves in will determine the quality of their experiences. If someone takes Ecstasy while upset, sad or angry in a hostile or unpleasant environment, the person is much more likely to have an unpleasant trip than if he or she had stayed at home and taken it with someone they love. Ecstasy is nowhere near as dangerous in this aspect as drugs like LSD, psilocybin or mescaline, but it is not completely safe either.The Therapeutic Uses of Ecstasy
Before the Orwellian-sounding Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] placed MDMA on Schedule 1 of controlled substances, professional therapists in the USA found MDMA a valuable tool for counselling and marriage-guidance sessions. MDMA's capacity to induce empathetic bliss, heightened introspection and an increased ability and desire to communicate feelings can create a rapport with the therapist and accelerate a successful outcome. MDMA acts to boost self-esteem and self-confidence, while paradoxically diminishing egotism. The user's sense of social isolation vanishes. "I love the world and the world loves me", affirmed one beneficiary of MDMA-assisted therapy.
On a more sceptical note, it's hard scientifically to validate claims of long-lasting therapeutic success. For MDMA's stunning short-term results make double-blind, placebo-controlled trials effectively impossible. Such a problem doesn't always bedevil today's lame "antidepressants", the results of whose trials often struggle to reach statistical significance. Investigational drugs are lab-tested by Big Pharma to discover whether or not non-human animals will self-administer them. Candidate compounds are normally discarded if the animals do so, arguably a perverse route to uncovering antidepressants with good clinical efficacy and high patient compliance. By contrast, MDMA is a warm, fast-acting, non-sedating mood-enricher that banishes social anxiety and physical pain alike. Unlike opioids or the anxiolytic benzodiazepines, MDMA doesn't cloud consciousness even at relatively high doses. This doesn't stop less cerebrally-inclined ravers from getting "cabbaged" by swallowing pills all weekend.
Explored in a controlled setting, MDMA can be therapeutic for victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A minority of subjects find they enjoy the experience too much to focus on the emotional baggage of the past. Sessions are most likely to be productive with an experienced MDMA therapist. In the Prohibitionist era, MDMA-assisted therapy-sessions are rare.
Against formidable odds, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been seeking funding and FDA-approval for controlled trials of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. If these trials are successful, then MAPS hopes that MDMA could eventually become a prescription-medicine. For on MDMA, many traumatized or seemingly emotionally frigid people who can never otherwise speak about their innermost fears and feelings find they can spontaneously open up. There is no compulsion to talk - just a dissipation of the social anxieties that make us normally tight-lipped.
Functional analogues of MDMA may one day be employed in other kinds of insight-oriented therapy as well. Safe, long-acting MDMA analogues may prove therapeutic in the treatment of social phobia, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Though the potential for using Ecstasy in psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy seems enormous, it is the duration of the drug's effects that present a real problem for most practitioners. Since most psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are bound by a sixty-minute-session routine with their patients, the peak effects of MDMA which last from four to six hours are not a very appealing prospect for most doctors. It would primarily only be useful for practitioners in a hospital setting, where the patient could be observed, studied and/or treated by a staff for longer periods.
However, some of the few doctors who went the extra mile with their patients have found it so useful, as to say that a single session with MDMA can achieve more than months of therapy for a few patients.
Longterm Effects of Ecstasy Use
Newspapers have often been very quick to publicise the fact that Ecstasy has caused reactions in a tiny number of people that have led to death. It has been conservatively estimated that this represents a single death per year for every 3.5 million users. In fact, the first report of an ecstasy-related death didn’t come until after criminalization, in 1985. Therefore, you are more likely to win the National Lottery jackpot than you are to die from taking an ecstasy tablet.
Compare these statistics with the equivalent for the drugs we use legally. Every year 20,000 die alcohol related deaths. This does not include those people who die in accidents or alcohol fueled violence. Emergency-room statistics for alcohol versus ecstasy show a similar trend - many more people get into trouble on alcohol than on Ecstasy.
However, sometimes "Ecstasy" doesn't contain MDMA at all, but MDA; MDEA (3,4-methylenedioxyethyl- amphetamine: "Eve"); 2-CB (4-Bromo-2,5 Dimethoxyphenethyla- mine: ''Nexus", "Venus", "Bromo"); 2C-I; PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine); amphetamine ("speed"); ephedrine; pseudoephedrine; caffeine; the dissociative anaesthetic ketamine ("Special K"); DXM (dextromethorphan); GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate: "liquid ecstasy"); or some combination thereof. This list is far from exhaustive. A minority of psychologically robust or reckless clubbers purposely mix MDMA with LSD ("candyflipping") to impart a "warm, loving glow" to their acid trips. Or they "hippieflip" with psilocybin mushrooms; or "kittyflip" with ketamine.
Marijuana is widely smoked as well. Ravers who want to dance all night may prefer Ecstasy laced with speed; a sub-neurotoxic dose of MDMA can be made toxic by adding (+)-amphetamine. To outsiders, Ecstasy-fuelled raving might seem pointless, mindless partying. But either way, chronic heavy use of the methoxylated amphetamines or any other "club-drug" poses risks to the user's health.
Still, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the effects long term Ecstasy use may have on the brain. Though depression, anxiety, panic attacks, memory loss and increased hostile and impulsive behaviour is usually linked to long term Ecstasy use, this is not compatible with evidence, since repeated studies have indicated that Ecstasy users are in fact less hostile and impulsive than control groups. However, these are the only functional and behavioural changes that surveys have confirmed, we still don't know how alterations in brain chemistry will affect users in later life.
No compelling evidence exists that taking a single c.125mg dose of MDMA a few times or so a year is likely to cause any long-term harm to the user's mental or physical health. Nevertheless, even pharmaceutical-grade Ecstasy taken at moderate doses in optimal conditions is not a wholly benign drug. Beyond warm memories, this afterglow may in part be explained by MDMA's residual amphetamine metabolic by-products: MDMA itself has a long, 8-9 hour elimination half-life from the blood; and its main metabolite's longer-acting, less stimulating (-)-MDA enantiomer has 5-HT2A activating effects resembling low-grade LSD. But two days or so after taking Ecstasy, most users experience a ten day or more serotonin dip. The dip ranges from the almost imperceptible to the markedly unpleasant.
Excessive Ecstasy intake triggers oxidative damage to the user's serotonergic nerve cell fine axon terminal lipids and proteins via the production of toxic free radicals. However, the threshold dose for any lasting MDMA-induced toxicity is unknown; and the identity and precise mechanism of the chemical(s) causing the oxidative stress is unclear. The issue is also controversial.
Whatever the mechanism at work, most users eventually stop taking MDMA. They do so after either they find the E-magic wears off, or the unwanted side-effects of heavy E-use begin to outweigh its joys.
MDMA users may find the magic of the initial drug-induced euphoria tends to fade with frequent use. For most users, a magical drug becomes just a feel-good drug. Adverse side-effects tend to become more troublesome. Higher doses are needed to gain the same effect. Users often claim that "the E isn't as pure as it used to be" or that the tablets are weaker. Pharmacodynamic tolerance to a drug is normally reversible, yet some users of Ecstasy report they never quite recapture the initial ecstatic euphoria, even if they abstain for a year or more. Researchers are still unsure if this fade-off is a symptom of long-term neuroadaptation or serotonergic damage.
Currently the risk-benefit analysis of taking or missing out on MDMA is questionable. Even some heavy Ecstasy users claim they don't experience any long-term adverse effects. Probably the gravest threat to the long-term emotional and physical health of the user is getting caught up in the criminal justice system.
Victims of the law-enforcement agencies frequently suffer long-term neuropathological changes. Lowered serotonin levels, elevated cortisol, confusion, depression, sleep problems, severe anxiety, and paranoia are common. In some cases, the neurological damage may be permanent. Currently around 500,000 "drug-offenders" languish in American jails alone; and millions more young people throughout the world are at risk.
Although repealing ill-conceived drug laws is only part of the answer in protecting mental health, you may want to check out the Global Legalise Initiative, which is dedicated to promoting legalisation of all illicit drugs, not just ecstasy in particular.
Ecstasy may promise to enhance mental health, add magic to our lives, and beautify our troubled minds, but it delivers at best, only a fleeting glimpse of paradise. So every person must weigh the benefits against the negatives of using Ecstasy.
For those people who are not genetically predisposed to addiction, the risks are naturally not as great as someone who easily develops habits. If addiction runs in your family, for example, your mother, father, grandparent, brother or sister has problems with addiction, you may want to reconsider the pros and cons of your using or even trying MDMA, or any drug for that matter. Though it is not likely that you will become physically addicted to Ecstasy, a person can become psychologically, emotionally or mentally addicted to almost anything.
If you can drink alcohol, smoke pot and do other drugs recreationally, there is little chance that you will develop an Ecstasy habit.
Arguably, it is best to take MDMA infrequently and reverently or not at all - Dr Shulgin once suggested a maximum of four times a year.
As with everything and anything else, the choices are all yours if you want to try Ecstasy. Only you can decide if you want to take a chance on The "Totally" Ecstasy Experience.
Have you ever tried Ecstasy? What was your experience? Do you still use it occasionally? Do you use it regularly now? Let Addicts Not Anonymous readers know your experiences with a comment.
Written By: Tom Retterbush