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Health Hazards

Many problems users encounter with MDMA are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine. They are as follows:

  • Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA. (Even psychotic episodes have been reported.)

  • Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.

  • Increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.

Recent research findings also link MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. It is thought that the drug causes damage to the neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons. In monkeys, exposure to MDMA for four days caused brain damage that was evident six to seven years later. This study provides further evidence that people who take MDMA may be risking permanent brain damage.

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Also, there is evidence that people who develop a rash that looks like acne after MDMA use may be risking severe side effects, including liver damage, if they continue using.

MDA, the parent drug of MDMA, is an amphetamine-like drug that has also been abused and is similar in chemical structure to MDMA. Research shows that MDA destroys serotonin-producing neurons, which play a direct role in regulating aggression, mood, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. It is probably this action on the serotonin system that gives MDA its purported properties of heightened sexual experience, tranquillity, and conviviality.

MDMA also is related in structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors, and can eventually result in a form of paralysis.

Extent of Use

Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG)

MDMA is used most often by young adults and adolescents at clubs, raves (large, all-night dance parties), and rock concerts. Its abuse is increasingly reported in the 20 metropolitan areas included in the CEWG.

In Kings County, Washington, a recently completed survey of young men who have sex with men showed that MDMA was among the frequently used drugs (20 percent of the sample).



 
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