As you dance with your friends at an outdoor music festival, the bright lights and loud music have transported you to a place of pure joy. So when someone hands you a small, brightly colored pill, you get swept up in the moment and don’t think twice about taking it. What happened next you’ll remember forever, because it started you down a path of addiction you never thought you’d tread. You began to feel intensely euphoric, full of energy and connected to everyone around you. The feeling was a bit overwhelming and had you on edge, but your worries melted away as the night wore on.

The brightly colored pill was MDMA, a synthetic drug known for causing feelings of euphoria, positivity and empathy. More commonly known as Molly or ecstasy, MDMA is chemically similar to other drugs such as methamphetamine or mescaline. It’s popular at raves, night clubs and music festivals because it produces effects similar to both of these drugs, with stimulant and psychedelic properties. MDMA creates an intense high, but it comes at a cost as it depletes your brain’s natural supply of serotonin. This causes individuals to “crash” and experience extreme lows once the effects of the drug wear off, beginning a cycle of repeated use that can lead to addiction and have devastating consequences on the brain and body.

What is MDMA?

MDMA, also known as ecstasy, Molly, XTC or simply X, is a synthetic drug created in 1912 as Anton Kollisch tried to develop a vasoconstrictor. He created methylenedioxymethamphetamine instead, the active ingredient in MDMA responsible for its euphoric and mood-altering effects. The drug didn’t attract attention until the 1970s when psychiatrists discovered that the feelings of warmth and empathy it elicited encouraged patients to open up more during their sessions and began to use the drug as a therapeutic tool. As its popularity grew within the psychiatric community, its reputation spread and MDMA began to be used recreationally. It was rebranded as ecstasy and became popular at bars, clubs and parties where it attracted the attention of the DEA, finally being outlawed and classified as a Schedule I drug in 1985. Despite this, ecstasy continues to be a popular party drug, especially among young adults. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 12 percent of individuals aged 18 to 25 have reported using the drug at least once.

What are the Signs of MDMA Use?

When ecstasy is ingested, it has a variety of stimulating, psychedelic effects that include a sense of euphoria, pleasure and well-being. It also increases overall mood and makes many users want to dance, chat and be sociable. These effects are often compounded by alcohol use and produce tell-tale signs that someone is using the drug. If you suspect that someone you care about is under the influence of MDMA, some of the effects to look for include:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Feelings of euphoria and empathy
  • Sociability and talkativeness
  • Enhanced sensory perceptions
  • Heightened tactile sensations (touch)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased activity levels
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Teeth or jaw clenching
  • Appetite loss
  • Memory issues
  • Chills and sweating
  • Poor decision making
  • Increased body temperature

The acute effects of ecstasy only last a few hours, but many individuals take multiple doses to extend the duration of the high. This increases unwanted side effects and makes it even more difficult to gauge the size of a dose since ecstasy often contains unknown ingredients and additives. MDMA also lowers one’s inhibitions, which could make an individual more likely to make poor decisions or engage in risky behavior such as unprotected sex. Some studies have also shown that ecstasy prevents users from recognizing threatening or menacing facial cues, making them more vulnerable to dangerous situations.

How Does MDMA Affect the Brain?

MDMA’s effects come from increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, arousal, social behavior, appetite and sleep. When ecstasy is ingested, it floods the brain with serotonin to create feelings of euphoria and empathy. To a lesser extent, dopamine and norepinephrine are also released, increasing blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate while activating the brain’s reward center. This sudden rush of neurotransmitters can create pleasurable feelings, but it can also cause seizures, brain damage and even death in some people. Some side effects of long-term MDMA use include:

  • Impaired cognitive function and memory
  • Psychiatric concerns such as depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Intense drug cravings

Repeated exposure can have even longer-lasting effects that persist long after MDMA use has stopped. This is because when such a large amount of neurotransmitters are released, it depletes the brain’s limited supply. These important neurochemicals take time to replenish and as a result, the pleasant effects of ecstasy or Molly quickly give way to unpleasant ones. Many individuals reporting feeling depressed and anxious after using MDMA and these feelings often linger as the brain tries to heal itself over the next few days, but repeated use can actually damage neurotransmitters and impair one’s ability to produce serotonin. The brain is incredibly adaptive and wants to maintain a healthy, balanced state — in response to elevated serotonin levels and overstimulation, the production of some receptors may be down-regulated or reduced. This is why those who frequently use MDMA experience prolonged periods of depression, anxiety and anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, long after the drug’s effects have worn off.

Detoxing from MDMA

MDMA depletes the brain’s supply of serotonin, which can lead to extended periods of depression or anxiety, trouble sleeping, impaired memory and difficulty concentrating. Known as a “crash,” these effects can exacerbate existing mental health conditions or trigger the onset of new ones. Since ecstasy has such a profound impact on brain chemistry and cognitive balance, treating an MDMA addiction and detoxing properly is important to avoid debilitating side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is reported in up to 60 percent of ecstasy users and may be dangerous, causing adverse reactions such as tremors, high blood pressure, fatigue, confusion, paranoia and hallucinations.

At Journey Hillside Tarzana, our licensed medical professionals and nursing staff are available around the clock to provide patients with a safe and comfortable detox. We closely monitor each individual and thoroughly assess them upon intake, identifying any co-occurring disorders or other challenges to ensure the optimal level of care is provided. Our experienced team is adept at managing at a variety of withdrawal symptoms and provide discreet care as clients recover in a quiet, private environment that promotes relaxation and renewal. We understand that detox can set the stage for the rest of the recovery journey and develop customized treatment plans for each patient to ensure a comfortable, positive experience. This may include the use of medications when appropriate, to manage symptoms and co-occurring disorders. Once detox is complete, patients can transfer into our exclusive residential program for comprehensive treatment that allows them to rebuild their physical and mental health for lasting recovery.

Treating MDMA Addiction at Journey Hillside Tarzana

Journey Hillside Tarzana offers patients an intimate treatment experience where they receive individualized care that allows them to explore their substance use issues in-depth and achieve sustainable, long-term recovery. Our treatment programs are flexible and customized for each individual, ensuring a level of care that resounds with patients no matter where they are on their recovery journey. Throughout the treatment process, our dedicated team provides guidance and support as each patient engages in a variety of effective clinical and experiential therapies designed to help them heal at their own pace. Some of the treatments we use include:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Trauma services
  • 12-step integration
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Nutritional support
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Community support groups

We believe in providing each patient with integrated, holistic care that addresses their emotional, spiritual and mental health needs in addition to healing the body. Our team is highly experienced in a wide range of treatment modalities to provide a level of care that ensures every patient receives the care they need to achieve deep and lasting recovery.

Contact Journey Hillside Tarzana

At Journey Hillside Tarzana, we recognize that no two patients will face the same challenges in recovery and have developed deeply personalized treatment plans for men and women from all walks of life. Our compassionate, professional team understands how ecstasy use affects the brain and is uniquely qualified to provide comprehensive care that encompasses each patient’s mental, physical and emotional needs as they begin to heal. If you or someone you care about needs help with their MDMA use, Journey Hillside Tarzana in the Los Angeles area can offer appropriate, comprehensive care that will allow holistic healing in a luxury setting. Contact or call us today at 877-414-1024 to find out more about our programs.

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