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What is Ecstasy?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ecstasy is a synthetic, hallucinogenic drug that goes by a number of names, including E, X and MDMA. This drug is in the amphetamine family and is commonly used as a party drug, especially at all night raves. In the US, it is a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no current acceptable medical use in the United States.

Merck, the German pharmaceutical company, developed ecstasy in 1912 in the process of trying to find a substance that would stop bleeding. It was not studied on its own until 1927, and then again in 1959, but no human trials were conducted. It was re-synthesized in 1967 by US pharmacologist Alexander Shulgin. For a period, with its serious side-effects unknown, it was used in psychotherapy, particularly for people who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As it became better understood, this work ceased, and it was made illegal in 1985.

Ecstasy is known as a club drug due to its frequent use in the nightlife that goes on those establishments, being used in bars, nightclubs, raves, and trances. It was the most commonly abused club drug in 2005, favored for the creation of a euphoric state, as well as reducing inhibitions and fostering feelings of intimacy and empathy. It can also lead to a sense of increased energy, and increased sensitivity to sensations.

The undesirable effects can be extremely severe, however. The drug is addictive, and it can cause users to become disoriented and suffer from blurred vision and difficulty focusing. The reduction in inhibition can lead to uncharacteristic choices in sexual behavior. Anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations, and psychosis are also possible. Use can cause hyperthermia, which can cause organ failure, arrhythmia, seizures, and even death.

The main form in which ecstasy is distributed in is tablets. The tablets often contain multiple substances, including amhetamines, caffeine, ketamine, methamphetamine, and MDA (3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine). Other substances that may be included are ephedrine, DXM (dextromethorphan), cocaine, heroine, and MDEA (3,4-Methylenedioxy-N-Ethylamphetamine). In some cases, pills sold as ecstasy don't actually contain this drug at all, but one or more of these other substances unstead.

Besides pills and capsules that are taken orally, ecstasy is sometimes used as a powder, which is sniffed, or in rare cases, it is smoked or injected. There are also reports of it being used as a suppository.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Mar 06, 2013

Someone I know abused ecstasy and other drugs over a year and a half. He's now suffering from chronic and severe anxiety and depression. He tried to commit suicide several times and is now hospitalized for ecstasy addiction.

I know many people are curious about this drug and peer pressure and admiration can take a toll. But it's better to avoid it completely. Using it regularly isn't a good idea, especially if you have a history of anxiety and/or depression.

By SarahGen — On Mar 05, 2013

@fBoyle-- I've heard that ecstasy makes intercourse last longer because it triggers arousal. Since it also impacts sensitivity to sensation, it can make orgasms feel different and more powerful.

However, it has its downsides. I read in an ecstasy information site that it actually makes orgasm difficult and sometimes even impossible for men. Many people who use the drug prefer cuddling to sex while they are under the impact.

I think this is good because arousal can cause people to engage in sexual activity with people they don't know well and without the proper use of contraceptives. This means a higher risk of contracting and transmitting sexual diseases.

By fBoyle — On Mar 05, 2013

Aside from uncharacteristic choices in sexual behavior, what other effects does ecstasy have on sexuality and intercourse?

By anon146719 — On Jan 27, 2011

i think this ecstasy is very dangerous to our health because it can cause us to be addicted to it.

By anon94391 — On Jul 08, 2010

Ecstasy isn't a hallucinogenic.

By anon85357 — On May 20, 2010

Ecstasy is a widely used substance for the purpose of recreation in the medical field. Most of the youngsters become addicted. Chronic ecstasy users may suffer problems like inability to think, recall and other memory problems. Also it leads to kidney and heart failure.

By anon70051 — On Mar 11, 2010

that's all good but how do you make it?

By totipotent — On May 28, 2009

ecstasy is semi-synthetic i think.

By anon32886 — On May 28, 2009

I would like to agree with the comment above/

the addition by the editor that states MDMA can contribute to a persons body temperature, on it's own in standard sub ld50 dosages (the dose, that if taken would kill 50% of the population) this increase in body temperature is nowhere near that of temperatures reached in hyperthermia, and would be *unlikely* to cause adverse effects such as organ failure or death.

What do you define "addictive" as?

MDMA is not addictive in the strictest sense of causing withdrawal symptoms (like with nicotine, opiates and cocaine), but i would admit that a strong psychological addiction can be achieved with repeated use.

I would just like the address the tentative nature of many of the points you have concluded in this article. MDMA is a drug, that when used correctly can induce spiritual, and cleansing experiences, all supported by the work of Alexander Shulgin.

It's just annoying seeing anti-drug campaignists trying to back up their work with scientific evidence when their points actually have little or no scientific basis, or they only address one side of the issue.

By anon28510 — On Mar 17, 2009

Is ecstasy performance enhancing?

By anon15877 — On Jul 23, 2008

I think it's a bit misleading to state that MDMA causes hyperthermia. Like any other mind-altering substance, MDMA can lead to neglect to care for one's needs, such as drinking water. Naturally, any behavior which encourages rigorous exercise without water will have complications, but you wouldn't state that the behavior caused the symptoms resulting from not drinking water.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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