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 Ecstasy Abuse Rising
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Ecstasy in the News

Ecstasy: Good-bye Fun... Hello Depression

Ecstasy is a synthetic drug that, according its proponents, produces a relaxed, euphoric state. Sensations are enhanced, music sounds better, and feelings of understanding people, getting along in groups, and general well-being are claimed to occur. Most users report that it makes them feel happy and social.
So, no problem, right? Wrong. Recently, a researcher at the University of Toronto School of Medicine in Canada found severe neurological damage in a 26-year old man who'd been using Ecstasy over a nine-year period. In fact, when the researchers examined his brain, they found reduced levels of serotonin, the brain chemical controlling moods, sleep, pain, sexual activity and violent behavior, less than 50 to 80% of what non-users have.

Although people using Ecstasy think it will make them feel good, they often have little knowledge about the drug they are using, including whether the drug has been changed or mixed with something even more harmful.

Because it is often created in illegal labs, Ecstasy can be mixed with PCP, methamphetamine, acid or DXM, dextromethorphan, a legal drug found in over-the-counter cough suppressants. Large doses of DXM can cause stomach pain, cramping, dizziness, vomiting and seizures.
Ecstasy users are likely to consider the drug to not be a big deal. After all, how harmful could something called Ecstasy be?

Ecstasy can cause depression, anxiety and paranoia, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It also may increase the heart rate and raise the body's blood pressure and cause faintness, chills, or sweating. Some studies have shown that Ecstasy can cause long-term brain damage and memory impairment.

Ecstasy is not just being used by ravers and club kids, like many people think. It has recently begun to appear all over the country and outside of clubs. It can be extremely dangerous in high doses and can cause a marked increase in body temperature leading to muscle breakdown. According to NIDA, kidney and cardiovascular system failure have been reported in some fatal cases at raves.

Ecstasy Pills Stamped with Pokemon Character
Associated Press-February 22, 2001

Pokemon character, Pikachu, has been stamped on Ecstasy pills laced with PCP found in northern Virginia. Using a popular character on pills could be a sign that drug dealers are marketing to kids in the Pokemon age group.

Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs
Charles Winwood
Updated Message to Parents: The Growing Ecstasy Threat

The synthetic drug Ecstasy, also known by its chemical abbreviation MDMA, has emerged as a major concern for U.S. law enforcement. This is due both to the health risks Ecstasy poses to those who frequently use it, and because of the drug’s increasing ties to criminal smuggling groups.

Over the last several years, the U.S. Customs Service has seized Ecstasy in record numbers from travelers, cargo, and mail packages entering America. In 1999, Customs seized 3.5 million Ecstasy tablets. That figure jumped to 9.3 million tablets in 2000. This year to date, Customs has seized more than 4 million Ecstasy tablets.

In the past, Ecstasy was most commonly associated with the big city club scene and popular all-night dance parties known as "raves." This is no longer the case. Ecstasy use has spread to bars, college campuses, and high schools and junior high schools across the country. What began primarily as an urban threat has now become a national crisis.

At the same time, violent crime related to the illegal Ecstasy trade is on the rise. While the level of violence associated with Ecstasy trafficking has not yet reached the same proportions as the cocaine or heroin trade, it will only grow. Demand for Ecstasy is surging in the United States and the worst elements of the criminal underworld are aggressively competing for the profits.

In response to these alarming trends, Customs has taken several important measures. First, we established an Ecstasy Task Force in Washington, D.C. to lead our investigative and counter-smuggling efforts. The Ecstasy Task Force is responsible for gathering daily intelligence on Ecstasy smuggling and coordinating Customs’ response with other law enforcement agencies. Customs has also trained 106 drug-detecting dogs to alert to Ecstasy and stationed them airports and mail and cargo facilities across the country.

While these measures will help us to combat the rising tide of Ecstasy, we must again appeal to the public, especially parents, to help us in this fight. Don’t be fooled by what some describe as the minimal side effects of the drug. Ecstasy has been classified as a Schedule I drug, placing it in the same category as drugs with no medicinal purpose such as heroin and LSD. In addition, a growing body of medical research continues to point to the risks of irreversible brain damage among Ecstasy users.

In the end, our best defense is less demand. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Ecstasy. Educate your child about the risks associated with the use of this and other drugs. And if you become aware of any smuggling activity, please report it to U.S. Customs at 1-800-BE ALERT.

The Agony of Ecstasy
by Mary Ann Swissler

Dr. Steven Kish of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto compared the brain tissue of a 26-year-old chronic ecstasy user who'd overdosed with 11 non-drug users. Roughly 50 to 80 percent of the neurotransmitter known as serotonin in the overdose victim's brain was depleted, Kish found. No noticeable decreases were found in the control group.

"This is the first study to show that this drug can deplete the level of serotonin in humans," Kish said. About 15 human studies have found that cognition was reduced with use of the drug, although serotonin was not one of the substances mentioned, he said.

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, usually for the better, and controlling some thought processes.

Ecstasy is considered an "empathic" drug, with users reporting a heightened sense of euphoria and desire to socialize. But when the serotonin runs out, depression sets in. Cognition, thought processes including memory, pain perception, sleep, and appetite all are affected.

The medical word for ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is structurally related to the hallucinogen mescaline and the stimulant amphetamine. Antidepressants act on the serotonin system to elevate lower amounts of serotonin in depressed people.

"This probably explains why ecstasy users are depressed or unhappy the day after they use it," Kish said.

In Kish's study, the serotonin depletion was sometimes reversible, but sometimes permanent damage was observed, depending on which area of the brain was being scrutinized. He cautioned that more research is needed, since "we can make no statement on brain damage."

The study is significant because it conclusively points to consequences in the human brain -– a toll that drug educators can use when speaking at schools, said researcher Karen Borell of John Hopkins University. "I think it holds promise for prevention. It seems to be the No. 1 drug of choice, especially among the younger population," she said.

As Kish stated in the latest issue of Neurology, "We recognize that conclusions based on a single case can only be tentative. However, our limited data suggest that depletion of serotonin might occur in the brain of some users of the drug and therefore therapeutic efforts to normalize levels of the neurotransmitter might address some of the behavioral problems occurring during drug withdrawal."

The mother of Joe Stephens, the man whose brain was autopsied for Kish's study, said the problem is, "The kids will admit that after a weekend of using ecstasy they are depressed but they don't put it together with the ecstasy."

Tinker Cooper, of Orlando, Florida found the body of her son in 1996. She now belongs to the group Families Against Drugs.

"Not only does it damage cells, it produces functional consequences, including a decline in your memory performance," Borell said, adding that psychiatric conditions such as depression and sleep disturbances almost always set in.

Borell calls ecstasy the "up-and-coming drug" worldwide: 2.3 percent of college students and 4.3 percent of people ages 19 to 28 reported using it at least once in the last year. Overall, 3.4 million Americans at least 12 years old had used ecstasy at least once during their lifetime, according to the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse survey.

In Toronto, an average of one ecstasy-related death is now reported per month, Kish said. This is up from zero deaths per month in 1997. Forty percent of the deaths in Toronto result from use at rave clubs. "We have a terrible problem with ecstasy use here," he said.

Emergency room visits and mortality rates are hard to measure, Borell said. "Things that go along with taking the drug, not the drug itself, causes the overdose. Dehydration seems to be the No. 1 complication, at least at rave clubs."

Cooper stressed that the answer is not shutting down all raves. "It's a double-edged sword. Cops keep trying to close them down but the clubs will just go underground, they'll go in the woods." At least the clubs keep users visible in the event of an overdose, she said.



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