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Street names: E, XTC, X, Molly,  MDMA, Adam, lover's speed, the love drug

Ecstasy is the slang name for MDMA, the chemical compound 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine.

The drug, which has been illegal in Canada since 1976, causes the brain to release high levels of serotonin, which affects a person's mood, energy levels and appetite.

Since ecstasy is manufactured in illegal labs, its manufacturing process and chemical make-up can vary widely. It is not unusual for the lab to add or substitute MDMA with other chemicals that may produce a similar effect, in order to increase profits. As a result ecstasy may contain other ingredients such as amphetamine, caffeine, dextromethorphan, ephedrine, ketamine and LSD.

In some cases, the drug may contain no MDMA at all. Notably, ecstasy can sometimes contain high levels of toxic drugs that can be fatal at low doses, with a number of deaths being attributed to para-methoxyamphetamine (PMA), being sold as ecstasy.

How it is used

Ecstasy is often swallowed as a pill, tablet or capsule. Less frequently it is snorted as a powder, either by purchasing the powder directly or grinding tablets into a powder.

The drug is also sometimes used with other psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms or cannabis.

Quick facts:

  • The use of ecstasy is often associated with young people attending raves (all night dance parties) and is sometime referred to as the club drug.
  • A survey of Ontario students found a decline in the use of ecstasy, with usage dropping to 3.2 per cent in 2009 from six per cent in 2001.
  • Independent testing of ecstasy pills done by, an independent laboratory pill testing program run by Erowid Center, found that 39.3 per cent of pills tested in 2012 had no MDMA and only 24.3 per cent contained MDMA only. [1]
  • A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that MDMA use produces chronic serotonin neurotoxicity in human users that does not decrease with drug abstinence.[2]

Recognizing ecstasy

Ecstasy is often sold in as tablets or capsules and less frequently, as a powder. The tablets come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours and are often stamped with logos like peace symbol or butterfly, which gives them a candy-like appearance.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) cautions against using the logo or appearance of the pills as an indicator of quality, as many labs use the same logo and there can be a lot of copycats as well.

Effects of ecstasy

People who use MDMA experience a feeling of well-being and intimacy. People will also often feel confident, energetic and more socially connected to others.

Even at low doses someone who uses MDMA may have a range of negative experiences, which are even more likely to occur at higher doses. This can include:

  • sweating
  • increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • anxiety and/or  panic attacks
  • teeth grinding , jaw pain
  • blurred vision
  • dehydration
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sleep problems
  • seizures, stroke and heart attack

CAMH reports that a person who takes MDMA may experience after-effects that can include confusion, irritability, anxiety, paranoia, depression, memory impairment or sleep problems.

People who use MDMA can develop a psychological addiction, where the drug becomes overly important in the person's life. Frequent users of MDMA can rapidly build up a tolerance for the drug. Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety and depression, as well as sleeplessness, panic attacks, agitation, psychosis and paranoid delusions.[3]

Note: Given that only 24 per cent of pills tested by in 2013 contained MDMA as the only active chemical, someone who uses ecstasy may be under the effects of both MDMA and other drugs or toxins, which can affect the experience and the addictiveness of the drug.

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[1] Test Results Statistics

[2] Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2012; 69(4): 399-409 

[3] Council on Drug Abuse