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Biology 103
2001 Third Web Report
On Serendip

The Suicide Love Drug

Sarah Sterling

Adam, Ecstasy, XTC, hug, beans, love drug, X and E are all street names for the drug that is known as MDMA in the medical and scientific world. MDMA is most commonly referred to as Ecstasy and is a "synthetic, psychoactive drug with both stimulant (amphetamine-like) and hallucinogenic (LSD-like) properties". MDMA is also a neurotoxin, which in high doses can raise body temperature and cause muscle and kidney breakdown that eventually leads to failure of the cardiovascular system. This said, the drug is still one of the most popular on the market, and demand is rising. (1)

MDMA is made up of a chemical structure consisting of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It depletes serotonin-producing neurons after prompting "nerve cells to release a flood of serotonin". MDA, a parent drug of MDMA, destroys neurons that contain the neurotransmitter dopamine whose destruction is an underlying cause in the lack of coordination, tremors, and paralysis that come with Parkinson's disease. (1) Dopamine is also thought to be a chemical messenger to learning. (10) The use of MDMA not only reduces the presence of these two very important neurotransmitters, but can have serious side effects as well. Psychological side effects consist of confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety and paranoia. Physical effects and signs of Ecstasy users are muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, chills or sweating, as well as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term use of this drug is evident by an acne-like rash that develops all over the body and can lead to liver damage. This gives the drug many risks similar to those of cocaine. (1)

The "high" that most Ecstasy-users get is due to the sudden and extreme release of serotonin. This neurotransmitter controls emotions and judgment and plays a direct role in the regulation of moods, aggression, sexual activity, sleep and pain sensitivity. Ecstasy users report increased awareness in feelings of intimacy, and self-confidence while on the drug, but also experience a state of depression while coming down due to the later low levels of serotonin. (6) As if the dangers of the drug itself aren't enough, an extreme depletion of serotonin in the brain can be fatal. Many antidepressants aim to raise levels of serotonin as a lack in this chemical tends to result in risk taking, impulsive behavior, and aggressive acts, as well as clinical depression, suicides, and attempted suicides. In case tests on the victims of serious suicide attempts or suicides, 95% of the patients' brains showed chemical abnormalities linked to a lack of serotonin. (7) Another test, which researched the levels of serotonin in the spinal fluid of murderers showed an abnormally low amount of this neurotransmitter. (8)

With this much at risk, why are so many young adults using this drug? The answer seems to be based solely around simplicity and pleasure, though realistically is based around sheer ignorance to its effects. Ecstasy comes in a simple pill form that is most commonly swallowed, but can also be snorted, injected, or supposited anally. It can be easily hidden and used anywhere, but is mostly taken at raves and parties. Besides the effects of MDMA, one danger that Ecstasy users face is that some pills do not only consist of one chemical. These pills can contain extra ingredients that range from caffeine to dextromethorphan, which is used as a suppressant in many cough medicines. "Bad" pills are on the market too, which can contain mixes of multiple chemicals that are fatal when taken alone or mixed with drugs that do not normally interact severely with MDMA. (1)

Within the atmospheres that Ecstasy is encouraged other drug use is as well. As a general rule Ecstasy should not be mixed with any other drug, especially not alcohol. Alcohol is involved in the majority of Ecstasy related deaths through its strain on the kidneys and worsening of dehydration levels. Alcohol also makes the come down from Ecstasy harder to handle. When mixed with amphetamines, the Ecstasy high state is lengthened, but this can strain the kidneys and heart and also lead to anxiety and paranoia. Anti-depressants reduce the neurotoxicity of Ecstasy and can end an "E-trip" more quickly than many users would want. Marijuana helps the high come more quickly and lessens the intense rushes of Ecstasy. Users say that it aids in the come down and makes use more "psychedelic". If users want to come down from an Ecstasy high more easily they normally smoke heroin or use Ketamine. Ketamine has a tendency to overpower Ecstasy and users may end up staring at one spot on a wall or ceiling alone for an hour. It can also create either a calming feeling for the last few hours of Ecstasy use, or else heighten the effect. Mixing LSD or mushrooms with Ecstasy is known as "candyflipping" and many users take Ecstasy to lessen the chances of a bad LSD trip. (12)

As research on the effects of MDMA continues so does the number of Ecstasy users. Polls show that in the year 2000, 4.3% of 8th graders had used Ecstasy at least once compared to the 11% of 12th graders that have tried the drug. 1.4% of the 8th graders polled used the drug in the past month while 3.6% of the 12th graders admitted to using Ecstasy on a regular basis. These percentages don't even include college-age students who show the highest use of this and other drugs. (1) At any rate, it appears that no matter how much money the government is willing to use on drug prevention and education there will always be users, and many of them are still children. The disregard as to the effects of Ecstasy on the body of so many young adults just goes to show that there will forever be people who are willing to risk their lives in order to feel "high", or just to abide by the rules of what you have to do in order to be "cool".

*Author's Note: My desire to research the topic of Ecstasy came as a reaction to learning that one of my very close friends has used this drug since entering college. As I continued to learn more about Ecstasy I discussed this drug with many of my peers and heard their reactions to the use of this and other drugs. What I am unable to express in the paper you have just read are the feelings of so many who have lost friends and loved ones to the carelessness of drug use. It is to the mourning of my peers and the ignorance of the users that I dedicate this research and paper.

WWW Sources

1) MDMA (Ecstasy)

2) Dance Safe

3) MDMA (Ecstasy)

4) This is your brain on Ecstasy

5) Ecstasy

6) Ecstasy's Legacy

7) Scientists Study Serotonin Markers for Suicide Prevention

8) Serotonin and Judgment

9) Suicide Facts

10) Breakthrough? Study finds Dopamine cannot be source of Pleasure in Brain


12) Mixing Ecstasy with Other Drugs

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