Common Names: Adam, Beans, E, Ecstasy, Love drug, Molly, X, XTC
What is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is most commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly. It is a laboratory-made drug that produces a “high” similar to the stimulants called amphetamines. It also produces psychedelic effects, similar to the hallucinogens mescaline and LSD. MDMA first became popular in the nightclub scene, at “raves” (all-night dance parties), and music festivals or concerts. It is now used by a broader range of people. The drug’s effects generally last from 3 to 6 hours.
MDMA is a Schedule I substance, which means that the U.S. Government has determined that it has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Researchers, however, continue to investigate the possible medical benefits, for example, with patients that have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal cancer patients with anxiety. However, patients in those studies are under strict medical supervision.
How MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) is Used
Most people who use MDMA take it in a pill, tablet, or capsule. The pills can be different colors and sometimes have cartoon-like images on them. Some people take more than one pill at a time, called “bumping.” The popular term “Molly” (slang for molecular) refers to the pure crystalline powder form of MDMA, usually sold in capsules. But this is mostly a marketing gimmick—testing on “Molly” seized by police shows a variety of other ingredients.
In fact, researchers and law enforcement have found that much of the Ecstasy sold today contains other harmful and possibly deadly drugs. In some recent cases, drugs sold as MDMA actually contain no MDMA at all. Frequently, MDMA is mixed with or replaced by synthetic cathinones, the chemicals in “bath salts”. Some MDMA pills, tablets, and capsules have also been found to contain caffeine, dextromethorphan (found in some cough syrups), amphetamines, PCP, or cocaine.
What happens to your brain when you use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
Once an MDMA pill or capsule is swallowed, it takes about 15 minutes for the drug to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. MDMA produces its effects by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Let’s take a look at the importance of these chemicals:
- Serotonin—plays a role in controlling our mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and feelings of pain. The extra serotonin that is released by MDMA likely causes mood-lifting effects in users. People who use MDMA might feel very alert, or “hyper,” at first. Some experience altered sense of time and other changes in perception, such as a more intense sense of touch. Serotonin also triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which play a role in feelings of love, sexual arousal, and trust. This may be why users report feeling a heightened sense of emotional closeness and empathy.
- Dopamine—helps to control movement, motivation, emotions, and sensations like pleasure. The extra dopamine is linked to continued cravings for the drug.
- Norepinephrine—increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people who have problems with their heart and blood circulation.
Because MDMA increases the activity of these chemicals, some users experience negative effects. They may become anxious and agitated, become sweaty, have chills, or feel faint or dizzy.
Even those who don’t feel negative effects during use can experience bad after-effects. Even weeks later, people can experience confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and anxiety, because the surge of serotonin caused by MDMA reduces the brain’s supply of this important chemical.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs. And, check out how the brain responds to natural rewards and to drugs.
What happens to your body when you use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
The changes that take place in the brain with MDMA use affect the user in several ways. These include:
- increases in heart rate and blood pressure
- muscle tension
- teeth clenching
- lowered inhibition (doing things and making decisions that your normally wouldn’t)
- nausea (feeling sick) and possible vomiting
- blurred vision
- dizziness and faintness
- chills or sweating
- higher body temperature (can lead to serious heart, liver, or kidney problems)
- increased risk for unsafe sex
Because MDMA does not always break down in the body, it can interfere with its own metabolism. This can cause harmful levels of the drug to build up in the body if it is taken repeatedly within short periods of time. High levels of the drug in the bloodstream can increase the risk for seizures and affect the heart’s ability to beat normally.
Mixing MDMA with alcohol can decrease some of alcohol’s effects.
Researchers are not sure if MDMA causes long-term brain changes or if such effects are reversible when someone stops using the drug. However, studies have shown that some heavy MDMA users experience problems that are long lasting, including confusion, depression, and problems with memory and attention.
Can you overdose or die if you use MDMA use (Ecstasy or Molly)?
Yes, you can die from MDMA use. MDMA can cause problems with the body’s ability to control temperature, especially when it is used in active, hot settings (like dance parties or concerts). On rare occasions, this can lead to a sharp rise in body temperature (known as hyperthermia), which can cause liver, kidney, or heart failure or even death.
Is MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) addictive?
Researchers don’t yet know. What is known is that MDMA targets the same neurotransmitters that are targeted by other addictive drugs. Researchers are still working to understand MDMA’s addictive properties. But, some users experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms after regular (daily or almost daily) use of the drug is reduced or stopped, such as:
- loss of appetite
- trouble concentrating
How many teens use MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)?
The chart below shows the percentage of teens who use MDMA.
|Drug||Time Period||8th Graders||10th Graders||12th Graders|
* Data in brackets indicate statistically significant change from the previous year. Previous MTF Data
Explore teen substance use trends over time, by grade and substance with an interactive chart featuring Monitoring the Future data from 2016 to present.
What should I do if someone I know needs help?
If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don’t just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by)
If you want to help a friend, you can:
- Share resources from this site, including this page.
- Point your friend to NIDA’s Step by Step Guide for Teens and Young Adults.
- Encourage your friend to speak with a trusted adult.
If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.
For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.
Where can I get more information?
- Commonly Used Drugs Chart
- DrugFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)
- How Dangerous Are Synthetic Drugs? Test Your Knowledge
Statistics and Trends
- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
- Monitoring the Future [Monitoring the Future (University of MIchigan)]
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration]