MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, is a psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. MDMA possesses chemical variations of the stimulant amphetamine or methamphetamine and a hallucinogen, most often mescaline.
MDMA was originally synthesized in 1912 by a German company, possibly as an appetite suppressant. Chemically, MDMA is similar to MDA, a drug that was popular in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, MDMA was used to assist in psychotherapy by a small group of therapists in the United States. Illicit use of MDMA did not become prevalent until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Ecstasy is taken orally, usually in tablet or capsule form, and its effects last anywhere from four to six hours. Users of Ecstasy say that it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for others, suppresses anxiety, enhances the senses, and causes extreme relaxation. Ecstasy is also known to suppress the need to eat or sleep, allowing users to endure two or three day parties. Consequently, this type of behavior while using Ecstasy results in severe dehydration or exhaustion. While Ecstasy is not as addictive as heroin or cocaine, other adverse effects of Ecstasy use include nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increases in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. Ecstasy users also experience after-effects of anxiety, paranoia, and depression. An Ecstasy overdose is characterized by high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and, in more severe cases, loss of consciousness, seizures, and a drastic rise in body temperature. Ecstasy overdoses can be fatal, as they may result in heart failure or extreme heat stroke.
Ecstasy is most often distributed at late-night parties called "raves," nightclubs, and rock concerts. As the rave and club scene becomes more popular in the metropolitan and suburban areas across the country, ecstasy use and distribution increase as well. Ecstasy is often used in combination with other substances. Once an Ecstasy user begins frequenting events where Ecstasy is widely used; a vast array of drugs become accessible as well. It is common for an Ecstasy user to attempt to increase their high by combining Ecstasy with a dose of marijuana, LSD, ketamine, GHB, amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin. This experimentation can lead to addiction.
The long-term effects of Ecstasy use are just beginning to undergo scientific analysis. In 1998, the National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study of a small group of habitual ecstasy users who were abstaining from use. The study revealed that the abstinent Ecstasy users suffered damage to the neurons in the brain that transmit serotonin, an important biochemical involved in a variety of critical functions including learning, sleep, and integration of emotion. The results of the study show that recreational Ecstasy users may be at risk of incurring permanent brain damage that may manifest itself in depression, anxiety, memory loss, and other neuropsychotic disorders.
Where does ecstasy come from?
Ecstasy is produced through clandestine laboratories operating throughout Western Europe, primarily the Netherlands and Belgium. These labs manufacture significant quantities of Ecstasy in tablet, capsule, or powder form. There are also a limited number of Ecstasy labs operating in the United States. Israeli organized crime syndicates, sometimes with the help of Russian organized crime syndicates, have forged relationships with Western European Ecstasy traffickers and gained control over a significant share of the European market. The Israeli syndicates are currently the primary source to U.S. distribution groups.
Ecstasy is smuggled from Europe and overseas ecstasy in shipments of 10,000 or more tablets via express mail services, couriers aboard commercial airline flights, or, more recently, through air freight shipments from several major European cities to cities in the United States. Ecstasy is sold in bulk quantity at the mid-wholesale level in the United States for approximately eight dollars per dosage unit. The retail price of Ecstasy sold in clubs in the United States remains constant, at twenty to thirty dollars per dosage unit. Ecstasy traffickers traditionally use brand names and logos as marketing tools and to distinguish their product from that of their competitors. The logos on the Ecstasy tablets are produced to coincide with holidays or special events. Among the more popular logos imprinted on Ecstasy tablets are butterflies, lightning bolts, and four-leaf clovers.