MDMA and Teens: The Cold Hard Facts

The synthetic chemical substance MDMA has been around since the early 20th century. But it remained relatively obscure and unknown until the 1980s, when it arrived on the youth party scene, in pill form, carrying the name Ecstasy. The core chemical in Ecstasy does provide users with an initial rush of euphoria and energy. But it does so only by simultaneously overstimulating and desensitizing the nervous system, and over time this can have serious negative ramifications. Ecstasy—or, in its newer powdered form, MDMA (known as Molly)—is consumed almost exclusively by teens and young adults at parties, dance clubs, concerts and at raves. Enthusiasts believe it will sharpen their senses, increase their endurance and allow them to share a deeper emotional connection with their companions. MDMA is generally not believed to be physically addictive, and even those who use it a lot are unlikely to experience powerful cravings or health-threatening withdrawal symptoms when they choose to abstain. But like all illegal drugs, Ecstasy and Molly will eventually drop the hammer on those foolish enough to believe the hype. At this time no one is really sure what the risks of consuming pure MDMA are, because the majority of the drugs being sold as Ecstasy and Molly are a mixture of multiple substances and often contain little or none of the chemical 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Chemical testing on these drugs reveals a hodge-podge of mind-altering substances including LSD, methamphetamine, cocaine, veterinary medicines, pharmaceutical painkillers and conventional amphetamines. To save money, drug manufacturers will dilute MDMA with random samples of any other drug they can get their hands on. Dishonest dealers then market it as pure Ecstasy or Molly, and consequently users have no idea what kind of junk they are putting into their bodies. But whatever their chemical composition, the negative side effects of these cocktail drugs are diverse, frightening and in some cases, terminal. Short-term symptoms induced by Ecstasy or Molly include depression, confusion, nausea, impaired judgment, sleep problems, severe anxiety, paranoia, chills, blurred vision and muscle tension. Meanwhile, things will only get worse for habitual consumers; possible long-term side effects of Ecstasy or Molly use include permanent damage to areas of the brain that regulate thought, memory, learning, sleep and emotional response; degeneration of nerve branches and endings; kidney and liver failure; depression, anxiety, memory loss and psychosis; convulsions; cardiovascular collapse and heart attack and death by overdose.

MDMA Abuse by the Numbers

School-age adolescents are not using MDMA products as frequently as they did during the drug’s heyday in the 1980s. But MDMA is neither gone nor forgotten. In 2013, 7.1 percent of high school seniors admitted they had tried Ecstasy or Molly. Contemporary use was not overly common, thankfully, as only one in 25 from this age group had used MDMA within the last year and just 1.5 percent had taken it in the last month. But even among 8th graders, MDMA is not unknown; according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2013 Monitoring the Future report, 1.8 percent of American kids in this age range have tried Ecstasy or Molly at least once. Another teen survey found that 55 percent of all kids who had tried MDMA products had done so in response to peer influence, so there is no doubt that MDMA use is occurring within a persistent social context. Part of the hype propping up MDMA’s reputation as a legitimate party drug is the contention that it is not addictive. This claim is controversial, however, since psychological addiction can exist even if physical dependency does not. Thousands of former Ecstasy/Molly users have testified about the horrors they experienced after they got sucked into the MDMA/club drug party scene, and all are unanimous in describing the torture they underwent when this drug was controlling their lives. And more than 90 percent of Ecstasy/Molly users in one survey admitted to taking other types of drugs, which shows that MDMA consumption is not a separate phenomenon from the drug culture at large. Of course, pure MDMA is almost impossible to find. One DEA-sponsored laboratory analysis discovered that only 13 percent of the MDMA products being seized in police raids contained any MDMA at all (and often in negligible amounts). If these drugs contain substances that are physically addictive—and they most certainly do—all bets about the characteristics of the MDMA products currently in circulation should be considered off. Death statistics for MDMA are elusive, although no one is claiming it kills as frequently as opioids, alcohol or cocaine. However, between 2005 and 2011, emergency room visits related to MDMA abuse rose from 4,500 per year to over 10,000, which strongly suggests the cocktails currently being distributed under the MDMA label are more potent and dangerous than ever. Kids who get involved with Ecstasy or Molly truly have no idea what it is they are putting in their bodies, and if they are naïve enough to believe what friends or drug dealers are telling them, they are setting themselves up for big trouble.

There Is No Ecstasy With MDMA

Treatment and rehabilitation for MDMA abuse is highly effective and has helped many kids find their way back to health. Professional counseling is vital for MDMA users dealing with the psychological issues that often accompany long-term consumption. Peer group attendance is important as well because young people need to know that the propaganda that says Ecstasy and Molly aren’t harmful is false, and the best way to convince them of this is to expose them to other kids whose lives have been damaged by these hazardous drugs. MDMA has been wrecking dreams and destroying futures for decades, and parents, educators and other concerned adults should not be complacent about the level of threat that exists for teens using Ecstasy or Molly. There is no such thing as a safe illegal drug, and any young person who buys into the outdated pro-MDMA hype may be bringing on his or her own downfall.

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