Over Labor Day weekend, two people – 20-year-old Olivia Rotondo and 23-year-old Jeffrey Russ – died from an MDMA overdose at the 2013 Electric Zoo Music Festival in New York. In June, a 20-year-old man named Matthew Rybarczyk died from what was first thought to be MDMA, but was later proven to be methylone, a drug which is sometimes substituted for MDMA. With overdoses of this drug – also known as Molly, ecstacy, extasy or XTC – increasingly headlining in the news, you may be wondering just what it is, why it is so popular and why it can be so dangerous.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), MDMA – chemically known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine – is an illegal drug which is both a stimulant and a psychedelic, meaning that it energizes the person using it as well as causing distortions in their perception of reality. Its users claim it enhances their sense of touch and their feelings of closeness and connection with others. It is especially popular at raves and dance clubs because users feel that it enhances the experience of the music and the party atmosphere.
Usually people take it as a tablet or capsule; but, sometimes they may snort it as a powder. Its effects last somewhere between three to six hours, although users will commonly take another dose as their “high” begins to subside.
Some of the less desirable effects that it has on the body include shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, teeth grinding, stomach upset, vomiting, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, tiredness, blurry vision and insomnia.
What is causing MDMA to be so deadly, however, are its more serious side effects, such as rising body temperature, dehydration, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and kidney failure. In fact, both of the people who died at the Electric Zoo Music Festival died from what the coroner listed as “hyperthermia,” which is the medical term for when your body is unable to cool itself.
Although there is often a perception among young people that MDMA is essentially harmless if you are careful, NIDA warns this may not be true. Even if you never overdose or have severe side effects from MDMA, research indicates that there may be long-term damage to your brain. Studies show that it may damage nerve cells containing serotonin, the same chemical that antidepressants attempt to increase in order to keep you free from depression. Potentially this could mean that you will become more prone to mood disorders like depression. And, in fact, it is a fairly well-known phenomenon that users are prone to bouts of depression lasting several days after using the drug.
Also, because MDMA is illegal, there if often not enough of it available to meet demand, which opens the door for less than ethical people to sell whatever they can get their hands on claiming it is MDMA. And, more so than any other illicit drug, the quality of what is on offer as MDMA can vary considerably. Often, sellers will substitute a variety of other drugs, such as caffeine, ephedrine, amphetamines or methylone (“bath salts”) to unsuspecting party goers. This, in addition, to the variability of the product itself, creates a very hazardous situation.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening