Last summer, British Columbia's top health official caused an uproar when he called the risks of MDMA -- the synthetic amphetamine sold as ecstasy -- overblown.
According to CBC News:
On its own, MDMA produces feelings of euphoria and connectedness, decreasing activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with the fear response, and increasing activity in the pre-frontal cortex, where higher-level brain processing occurs. Like psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, it increases the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain, and possibly due to greater levels of the hormone prolactin, it also creates a kind of post-orgasmic state.
MDMA was used in psychotherapy in the 1970s and early '80s, but in 1985, it was classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning the government considers it a dangerous substance with high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use. There are a couple unappealing side effects that have been observed with recreational ecstasy use: People have died of both dehydration and over-hydration (which causes brain swelling, ew) after taking MDMA, and it increases your blood pressure, so it can potentially lead to a stroke. At high doses, studies have found it can cause hyperthermia, or overheating, though there has been some debate over whether or not the MDMA itself can cause significant hyperthermia without overexertion.
"It's a lethal side effect," says Edward Mills, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's rare, but it happens commonly enough." Mills studies the way ecstasy increases body temperature in animals. MDMA activates the sympathetic nervous system, the same nerves that generate fevers.
Other reported side effects have been somewhat overblown. A 2003 paper claiming ecstasy causes permanent brain damage not unlike Parkinson's Disease, for example, was retracted because it turned out the researcher administered the wrong drug. The potential neurotoxicity of MDMA--whether or not it damages the nervous system and the brain--is still contested.
Michael Mithoefer, a private psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina, has been working on using MDMA in psychotherapy to treat PTSD since 2000. In his research, he uses MDMA made in a university lab that's registered with the FDA as more than 99 percent pure. So far he's only seen short-term side effects, like dizziness, impaired balance and anxiety.
"Nothing is completely safe," he says. "We're using it in a very controlled setting," with patients that are screened and monitored carefully, he explains. "It's a favorable risk-benefit ratio, but that does not mean that even pure MDMA can't be dangerous."
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS), which sponsors Mithoefer's MDMA research and wants to make it a prescription medicine for use in psychotherapy, says "In laboratory studies, pure MDMA—but not Ecstasy—has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses."
Is Purer Safer?
MAPS doesn't endorse ecstasy because most ecstasy isn't pure MDMA -- it's often cut with a some unknown filler, as are other drugs like heroin and cocaine. Both caffeine and ephedrine, another stimulant, serve as common fillers for ecstasy because they look and function somewhat similar to MDMA, but are cheaper to obtain. They share some of the speed-like effects of ecstasy, though they don't give you the same increase in empathy and emotional openness.
There's also a lot of hand-wringing about how kids these days think "molly" is purer, safer MDMA (Details likened its reputation to that of organic fruit). But whether or not an adulterant makes your MDMA experience more or less dangerous depends, of course, on what it is. If your pill or powder is laced with something like baking soda, the toxicity of the MDMA would actually be diluted.
"If the adulterant is caffeine or ephedrine, you can get a combination of toxic effects that can be as bad or greater than MDMA alone," Mills says. "They may enhance each other's toxicity, but definitive studies haven't been done."
Ecstasy's toxicity is a scientific mystery because it lacks a clear "dose and response effect," according to Mills--one person might get sent to the hospital after one pill, while someone else can take 50, no problem. How many people actually die a year from ecstasy-related causes is hard to pin down, but according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were 22,816 MDMA-related emergency room visits in 2009.
For Mithoefer's study, under controlled clinical conditions with research-grade, pure MDMA, the drug didn't show any long-term side effects. Trials of MDMA-assisted PTSD therapy have also been completed in Switzerland and gotten underway in Vancouver.
As for recreational drugs, it's pretty much impossible to tell whether what you're buying is 100 percent pure. You can buy test kits to check for some common adulterants. If your drug dealer happens to press his pills with baking soda, a less pure dose could actually be a bit safer, though the effects you're paying for will also be lessened. Other than that, you're probably better off with a purer dose of MDMA, rather than something that might be laced with a substance with Death in its nickname.
@D13, I would really like to know what your credentials are here. I see a lot of armchair quarterbacks pretending to know more about how to play the game than the players themselves, and from the things you have mentioned here, it sounds like you never stepped foot on the field. So where does your perspective originate, and just because you can quote wise men, does not make you one.
Ecstacy isn't even MDMA, it HAS MDMA mixed along with a lot of other substances, MDMA is just the primary "hallucinatory" compound. And UNLIKE @D13 so unknowingly states, TRUE "molly" is purified MDMA which is supposed to be less harmful (the other substances typically found in ecstacy are very harmful) than ecstacy but it is not "absolutely" safe. Like @D13 did point out, MDMA rushes are excessive seritonin releases which damages the brain. And even with it being theoretically saf-ER, it is typically cut with other substances which decrease that.
Cops went on air with the national media calling it the Swiss Cheese Brain Syndrome, but not one of them came back to correct their statements. Typical fear-mongering politics; the Prohibition movement is leading us in the direction of Sharia Law, purity on demand or death. For something that cares so much about God, they care very little for the truth or the multitude of experiences in life being unique.
@d13: Molly is not a "meth derivative." Maybe you're confused because the Ms in MDMA are methyl-somethings. MDMA is related to meth in that they're both amphetamines, but the drugs themselves operate differently, have different effects, and different potential dangers. Also Molly is definitely the street name for crystallized MDMA, so you're just straight up wrong about it being MDA.
As for the use of MDMA or LSD to treat psychological disorders, there are actually a lot of studies to back up their efficacy! The idea that using one of these drugs is more likely to cause PTSD than help it is absurd. I don't know much about MDMA on this front, but I researched LSD's potential clinical applications a year or so back and the thing about the drug that is thought to lessen psychological trauma is that patients' feelings about their trauma change. Kant (1967) studied terminal patients who were administered LSD and found them to be extraordinarily unconcerned about their impending deaths; that is to say, patients were able to recognize that death was imminent, their situation hopeless, but did not feel as though it mattered. It's possible MDMA has similar properties to LSD that would allow for similar changes in perspective about trauma and that is why it is considered being used for the treatment PTSD.
So to sum up my long post, Molly is not MDA or meth, it is crystallized MDMA, and LSD can keep you from worrying about death (and maybe MDMA does, too!).
MDMA = MAKE BELIEVE DRUG.
SORRY FOLKS I HAVE TO
PUT MY FOOT DOWN ON THIS ONE.
YOUR JUNKIED UP
OF DOGG POOP
TO BE STOPPED.
and SOMETIME VERY SOON.
PUT YOUR MONEY UP.
"THERE IS NO TEST
A FAKE DRUG AS MDMA.
ENTIRELY MADE UP."
"REAL LIFE. REAL TIMES"
FROM THE SAME
ALL OF THESE FAKE STORYLINES
ALL DAY LONG.
THE GEORGE W. BUSH FAMILY.
BIG DARK HAIRED NEIL BUSH
BEST FRIEND OF
'BIG JOE BULLETS.'
MY NUMBER ONE ENEMY.
SPILLING ALL OF THE BEANS.
FAKE DRUG TASK FORCE MEMBER
"FOR LIFE NOW."
THERE EVER WAS SUCH A THING.