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MDMA – methylenedioxy-methamphetamine – came to prominence during the rave scene, but has since since infiltrated all walks of life. Research has shown that its use is most popular amongst males aged 18 to 25 years in the UK.

Commonly taken in pill form as Ecstasy, users of MDMA report feelings of euphoria, warmth, affection and well-being.

Ecstasy/MDMA abuse is popular at festivals, clubs, raves and concerts due to its sense enhancing effects.

Ecstasy is often seen as a harmless drug that rarely goes wrong, but this is simply not true. Once MDMA is ingested it increases the activity of three powerful brain chemicals – dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. All of these chemicals impact our mood. Following an unnatural influx of the brain’s mood enhancing and motivational chemicals induced by ecstasy, there inevitably follows an abnormal crash.

The comedown from ecstasy can be so drawn out and uncomfortable that users try to delay or stop ecstasy withdrawal by taking more of the drug.

Whilst it is not uncommon for ecstasy’s effects to last for several hours, the comedown period (withdrawal) can last for several days. During this period the user is likely to feel low in mood, unmotivated and experience difficulty with sleeping and concentration.

There are 3 main dangers that are associated with ecstasy abuse

  1. Taking multiple pills, taking another pill before the initial dose starts to work, or taking more to avoid withdrawal (multiple dosing)
  2. Mixing ecstasy or MDMA with other drugs including alcohol and cannabis. This can lead to overdose, mental health problems, physical complications and high risk behaviour.
  3. Taking an ecstasy pill or MDMA powder that has been cut with another drug such as cocaine, LSD, ketamine, bath salts, fentanyl or heroin. This can lead to inadvertently overdosing, dangerous physical reactions and an increased likelihood of developing a drug dependence and addiction.


What is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is a man made Class A synthetic drug manufactured in homemade laboratories, as such, it is completely unregulated.

It’s hallucinogenic properties have the ability to distort one’s perception of time and its stimulant properties appeal to those who want to party the night away, (hence ecstasy being labelled as a ‘designer party drug’)

The only difference between MDMA and ecstasy is the form that the drug comes in. MDMA comes in powdered form ‘Molly’ or ‘Mandy’ and pill form ‘Ecstasy’ for which there are numerous names and brands.

In 1995 it was found that less than 10 percent of ecstasy pills on the market contained pure MDMA.

Whilst MDMA is one of the less addictive illicit drugs available, it is still capable of causing addiction to develop in an individual who is predisposed. Factor into this the addictive drugs that MDMA pills and powder are often cut with, a clearer picture of why and how people become addicted to what is often nicknamed ‘the love drug’ becomes evident.

A growing problem

In 2018, 92 deaths were registered in England and Wales attributed to ecstasy/MDMA use. This is the highest number of deaths recorded by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) since records first began. It is also a substantial increase on the previous year (2017) where there were 56 ecstasy related deaths. To say that ecstasy doesn’t kill or isn’t dangerous is somewhat a blinkered opinion. 1

Official statistics from the 2017-18 Crime Survey of England and Wales show that more people have been using ecstasy than at any point during the past decade. Ecstasy was recorded as having around 550,000 recent users – up 25% on the previous year’s survey. The high-strength MDMA pills that have come into the hands of dealers have heavily contributed to the increase in the number of Ecstasy-related deaths. 2


What is Ecstasy addiction?

Whilst there is little research and evidence to support ecstasy causing a physical drug dependence, there is no doubt that ecstasy addiction exists.

Addiction is created through repeated exposure to a substance or activity that induces profound euphoric effects. In this sense, ecstasy is no different to any other drug.

Repeated use of ecstasy can lead the brain to become chemically damaged and structurally altered, interfering with the brain’s natural pleasure/reward system. When this happens the brain creates new pathways to prioritise the seeking and taking of ecstasy, regardless of any negative consequences that occur 3

Ecstasy addiction can cause drug tolerance, leading an individual who frequently uses the drug to require more and more in order to gain the desired effects. The amount that an ecstasy addict can regularly consume would likely kill someone who is new to the drug.

Even once ecstasy has been stopped (with or without medical intervention) the structural changes to the brain remain for months after. In many cases of heavy ecstasy abuse they never fully repair. The only way an ecstasy addict will be able to sustain recovery and learn to live a happy, fulfilling and productive life will be to undergo a profound personal transformation brought about by undergoing evidence based therapy techniques.

At Delamere we specialise in the comprehensive treatment of all manner of addictions, including ecstasy addiction. If you have concerns around your own ecstasy use or someone that you feel needs help, call our helpline for a free of charge assessment and expert advice.

Street Names and slang terms of Ecstasy/MDMA in the UK

There are numerous names for ecstasy available in the UK. This is because so many individuals manufacture their own brand of pills or MDMA powder.

The strength, purity and cutting agents of each pill and powder are unknown to the naked eye.

Taking ecstasy really can be a game of Russian roulette, especially if you are trying a pill or taking a dab of MDMA for the first time, or using a new supplier or brand.
Street names and slang terms for ecstasy include:

MDMA powder form

  • Mandy
  • Molly
  • MDMA
  • Hug drug
  • Love drug

Ecstasy pills

  • Dolphins
  • E’s
  • Brownies
  • Beans
  • Hug
  • Mitsubishi
  • Teddy bears
  • Fantasy
  • Doves
  • X
  • XTC
  • M&M’s
  • Sweeties
  • Eckies
  • Edwards
  • Superman

There are many more names for ecstasy pills, different brands of pills will be more popular in different areas of the UK.


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Signs of ecstasy/MDMA addiction

Signs and symptoms of ecstasy addiction can be hard to spot to the untrained eye. MDMA and ecstasy tend to be taken in environments where there is music/partying to enhance ecstasy’s effects.

Someone who has an addiction to ecstasy is likely to binge on the drug. They may regularly go missing or out partying. They are likely to severely suffer during comedowns and may self-medicate, either with more ecstasy or prescription pills to lessen the impact of ecstasy withdrawal.

Signs of ecstasy/MDMA use and intoxication include:

  • Extreme euphoria
  • Unusual expressions of love, warmth and compassion towards strangers and acquaintances
  • Trance like state
  • Teeth clenching and jaw swinging
  • Increased energy
  • Increased thirst
  • Unusual confidence and joy
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Enhanced senses of touch, taste, smell, sound and sight
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Rapid, disorganised thoughts
  • Disorientation
  • Depersonalisation
  • Increased body temperature and sweating
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations 5

cycloplegia-caused-by-cyclopentolate-1-instilled-in-both-eyes-image-credit-ilovebaddies-2011

Signs of ecstasy/MDMA addiction include:

  • Binging on ecstasy pills
  • Partying regularly and for hours/days on end
  • Loss of interest in responsibilities and things they used to enjoy
  • Reduced performance and increased absences from education or the workplace
  • Frequent come downs where they will experience mood swings, anxiety, inability to focus or concentrate, exhaustion and depression
  • Taking ecstasy in inappropriate situations, places, or to prevent ecstasy withdrawal
  • Promiscuous behaviour leading to increased risk of unwanted pregnancies and contracting STI’s and STD’s
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Becoming very involved in the party lifestyle and changing their social circle to mix with other users
  • Increased depression and anxiety when not using ecstasy
  • Developing paranoia, hallucinations and/or psychosis due to excessive use of the drug

Ten facts about Ecstasy and its effects:

  1. Taking ecstasy isn’t always a pleasant experience. Adverse effects and risks of taking ecstasy include: anxiety, agitation, dizziness, paranoia, depersonalisation, nausea and vomiting, overheating, hyperthermia, kidney failure, cardiac arrest, electrolyte imbalances, rapid and irregular pulse, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, panic, irrational and disorganised thoughts, terrifying hallucinations, seizures, coma and death 6
  2. Physical dependence to MDMA and ecstasy is possible due to brain alterations and additional cutting agents added to the drug
  3. MDMA was used in the military for its stimulant properties and to increase soldiers stamina and performance, prior to it being illegalized in 1985 7
  4. Ecstasy and MDMA can kill. Taking a bad pill, mixing with alcohol, other drugs, mixing with prescription pills, binging on ecstasy or having preexisting health conditions can lead to electrolyte imbalances, hyperthermia, cardiac arrest, kidney failure and death 8
  5. Ecstacy can cause drug tolerance. Users report having to continually increase the amount taken in order to achieve the same effects
  6. Before the drug became popular amongst the party scene, MDMA used to be used for therapeutic purposes by health practitioners as a treatment for PTSD, complex psychological issues and in helping terminal patients to face death. MDMA assisted therapy was conducted under strict clinical trials and combined traditional psychotherapy with controlled doses of pure MDMA 9,10
  7. Combining ecstasy or MDMA with alcohol or other drugs including cannabis and certain prescription pills puts users at higher risk of adverse physical effects and death 11
  8. Research has shown that repeated use of ecstasy/MDMA can cause lasting damage to serotonin containing neurons in the brain. This can result in long term psychological problems, including changes to mood, memory, attention and other cognitive functions 12
  9. The most common method of taking ecstasy and MDMA is swallowing it. It can also be snorted in powdered MDMA form or crushing ecstasy tablets and can be injected.. MDMA/Ecstasy can also be taken anally, known as ‘plugging’
  10. MDMA/ecstasy was first patented as an appetite suppressant in 1912 by Merck chemist Anton Kollosch. However, it was never licensed as a prescription drug 7

Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms

Ecstacy and MDMA can produce some very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms can vary depending on if the drug is cut with another substance
The effects of ecstasy can last anything between 3 and 6 hours. However, even once the drug has worn off, users can experience some side effects for up to two weeks after taking the drug. 13

Abusing ecstasy will increase the severity and longevity of withdrawal symptoms. Some users will take more ecstasy just before the comedown to lengthen the duration of the drugs effects or mix ecstasy with alcohol or other drugs for a more intense experience.

Following ecstasy use the brain becomes depleted in serotonin and dopamine. These chemical imbalances in the brain can lead to disturbances in mood, sleep and appetite. In order to avoid these distressing withdrawal symptoms, some users may abuse ecstasy and take more, putting them at increased risk of developing ecstasy addiction and physical complications.

Common Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Tearfulness
  • Aches and pains
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing and disorganised thoughts
  • Dysphoria (feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction)
  • Suicidal thoughts and ideation

Where an individual is regularly abusing ecstasy or is addicted to ecstasy, professional treatment should be sought without delay. Ecstasy abuse and ecstasy addiction can lead to long term psychological and physical health implications and puts the individual at far higher risk of death.


The Delamere approach to the treatment of ecstasy addiction

Our team offers genre-leading treatment programmes that take into account factors such as the guest’s age, the nature of the symptoms displayed and their severity. It’s a highly individual approach that is having marked success, often including one-on-one therapy sessions, support group activity, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, anger management and recreation therapy.
If you are worried that ecstasy addiction has become a problem in your life, or in the life of someone you care about, contact Delamere today.


References:

  1. ONS – deaths related to drug poisoning England and Wales 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/datasets/deathsrelatedtodrugpoisoningenglandandwalesreferencetable
  2. ONS Crime England and Wales: year ending March 2018
  3. National Institutes on Drug Abuse NIDA. The science of addiction.
    https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction#footnote
  4. Hysek CM, Schmid Y, Simmler LD, et al. MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014;9(11):1645-1652. doi:10.1093/scan/nst161.
  5. Drug policy.org – 10 facts about MDMA https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_10_Facts_about_MDMA.pdf
  6. Lester SJ, Baggott M, Welm S, et al. Cardiovascular effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000;133(12):969-973.
  7. Freudenmann RW, Öxler F, Bernschneider-Reif S (August 2006). “The origin of MDMA (ecstasy) revisited: the true story reconstructed from the original documents” (PDF). Addiction. 101 (9): 1241–1245.
  8. G. Rogers et al., “The harmful health effects of recreational ecstasy: a systematic review of observational evidence,”Health Technol Assess 13, no. 6 (2009). See also, Emanuel Sferios and Missi Wooldridge, “MDMA-Related Deaths: Stop Calling Them Overdoses,” (July 10, 2015), https://dancesafe.org/mdma-related-deaths-stop-calling-them-overdoses/.
  9. R. Doblin, “A clinical plan for MDMA (Ecstasy) in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): partnering with the FDA,” J. Psychoactive Drugs, 34 (2002):185-94.
  10. Ben Sessa and David Nutt, “Making a medicine out of MDMA,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 206, no. 1 (2015): 4-6.
  11. MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2018.
  12. Meyer JS. 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): current perspectives. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2013;4:83-99. doi:10.2147/SAR.S37258
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2006). What are the effects of MDMA?

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