MDMA is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with both stimulant
hallucinogenic (LSD-like) properties. Street names for MDMA include Ecstasy, Adam, XTC,
beans, and love drug. Its chemical structure (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine,
similar to methamphetamine, methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), and mescaline - other
synthetic drugs known to cause brain damage.
MDMA also is neurotoxic. In addition, in high doses it can cause a sharp increase in body
temperature (malignant hyperthermia) leading to muscle breakdown and kidney and
cardiovascular system failure.
Brain imaging research in humans indicates that MDMA causes injury to the brain, affecting
neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons. The serotonin
system plays a direct role in regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and
sensitivity to pain.
Many of the risks users face with MDMA use are similar to those found with the use of
Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving,
severe anxiety, and paranoia - during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA.
Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred
vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.
Increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory or
Also, there is evidence that people who develop a rash that looks like acne after using
may be risking severe side effects, including liver damage, if they continue to use the
Research links MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to
memory. One study, in primates, showed that exposure to MDMA for 4 days caused brain
damage that was evident 6 to 7 years later.
MDA, the parent drug of MDMA, is an amphetamine-like drug that has also been abused and is
similar in chemical structure to MDMA. Research shows that MDA also destroys
serotonin-producing neurons in the brain.
MDMA also is related in its structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown
cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these
neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease.
Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors and can eventually
result in a form of paralysis.
Extent of Use
Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG)*
In many of the 21 metropolitan areas monitored by CEWG members, MDMA, once used primarily
at dance clubs, raves, and college scenes, is now being used in a number of other social
It is the most prominent stimulant used in Chicago; it is sold in many singles bars in
Denver; it is
used by a wide variety of age groups and in a number of recreational settings in Atlanta;
become the drug of choice among white middle class young adults in Washington, D.C. In
in 1999, there were eight MDMA-related deaths, and five in Minneapolis/St. Paul. In Boston
during the first three quarters of 2000, MDMA was the most frequently mentioned drug in
telephone calls to the Poison Control Center. MDMA is usually taken orally in pill form,
but snorting has been reported in Atlanta and Chicago, as has injecting in Atlanta, and
anal suppository use in Chicago.
Ecstasy content varies widely, and it frequently consists of substances entirely different
MDMA, ranging from caffeine to dextromethorphan.
Emergency room data indicate that MDMA is increasingly used by marijuana users, with
reports of MDMA in combination with marijuana increasing from 8 in 1990 to 796 in 1999.*
Ecstasy tablets seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration increased from 13,342 in
949,257 in 2000.
National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA)***
Each year, NHSDA reports on the nature and extent of drug use among the American household
population age 12 and older. The 1998 survey is the latest for data relating to MDMA use.
It found that an estimated 1.5 percent (3.4 million) of Americans had used MDMA at least
once during their lifetime. By age group, the heaviest use (5 percent or 1.4 million
people) was reported for those between 18 and 25 years old.
Monitoring the Future Study (MTF)****
From 1999 to 2000, the use of MDMA increased among all three grade levels measured in this
study - 8th, 10th, and 12th. For 10th and 12th graders, this is the second consecutive
use has increased. Past year use of MDMA increased among 8th graders from 1.7 percent in
to 3.1 percent in 2000; from 4.4 percent to 5.4 percent among 10th graders; and from 5.6
to 8.2 percent among 12th graders. Also among 12th graders, the perceived availability of
rose from 40.1 percent in 1999 to 51.4 percent in 2000.
African American students showed considerably lower rates of Ecstasy use than white or
Hispanic students in the 2000 MTF. For example, past year use among African American 12th
graders was 1.3 percent, compared to 7.6 percent for white 12th graders and 10.6 percent
for Hispanic 12th graders.
Ecstasy Use by Students, 2000: Monitoring the
|Used in Past Year
|Used in Past Month
"Ever used" refers to use at least once during a respondent's lifetime.
"Past year" refers to an individual's drug use at least once during the year
preceding their response to the survey. "Past month" refers to an individual's
drug use at least once during the month preceding their response to the survey.
* CEWG is a NIDA-sponsored network of researchers from 21 major U.S. metropolitan areas
selected foreign countries who meet semiannually to discuss the current epidemiology of
abuse. CEWG's most recent report is Epidemiologic Trends in Drug Abuse, Advance Report,
** The 1999 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) emergency room (ED) data are from a
national probability survey of 21 hospitals nationwide. The survey captures data on ED
that are related to the use of illegal drugs or the nonmedical use of legal drugs. The
DAWN survey is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA). Copies of the latest survey are available from the National Clearinghouse for
Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686, or at www.samhsa.gov.
*** The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) is an annual survey conducted by
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Copies of the
survey (1999) are available from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug
1-800-729-6686, or at www.samhsa.gov.
*** The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey is funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse,
National Institutes of Health, and is conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute
Research. The survey has tracked 12th graders' illicit drug use and related attitudes
since 1975; in
1991, 8th and 10th graders were added to the study. For the latest, year 2000 study,
students were surveyed from a representative sample of 435 public and private schools
nationwide; the student response rate was 86%. For the latest survey results, please visit
the NIDA website at www.drugabuse.gov