Ecstasy. Pink, yellow and blue tablets. ©Australian Drug Foundation 2011.Ecstasy facts

What is ecstasy?

Effects of ecstasy

Tolerance and dependence

Getting help

Ecstasy use in Australia

What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy is a street name for the drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It is a type of stimulant that also produces hallucinogenic effects.

Stimulant drugs speed up the messages between the brain and the body, and can make a person feel more awake, alert, confident or energetic.

Although ecstasy is sometimes described as being a mild hallucinogen, it is very rare for a person using ecstasy to hallucinate.

Other names

Ecstacy, E, XTC, eccy, the love drug, pills.

What does it look like?

Ecstasy usually comes in the form of a tablet, in various shapes, sizes and colours. Often, the tablets are imprinted with logos and designs from popular culture.

How is it used?

The most common way to take ecstasy is by swallowing.

Effects of ecstasy

The effects of any drug (including ecstasy) vary from person to person. How ecstasy affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken around the same time. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken.

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Immediate effects

The effects of ecstasy may start to be felt within 20 minutes to 1 hour after an ecstasy pill has been swallowed and may last for approximately 6 hours.

Low to moderate doses

Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking ecstasy include:

  • increased confidence and energy
  • lowered inhibitions
  • feelings of wellbeing
  • feelings of closeness to others
  • empathy
  • anxiety
  • paranoia, aggression and psychosis
  • poor muscle control and unsteadiness
  • muscle aches and stiffness
  • increased blood pressure & heart rate
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • increased body temperature
  • sweating
  • skin tingles
  • dilated pupils
  • heightened sensations (sight, hearing, touch)
  • jaw clenching
  • teeth grinding.

Higher doses

A high dose of ecstasy can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more ecstasy than their body can cope with. The effects can include:

  • floating sensations
  • vomiting
  • high body temperature
  • high blood pressure
  • increased heartbeat
  • hallucinations
  • irrational or bizarre behaviour
  • convulsions (fits).


Ecstasy has also been linked to several deaths through heart attack and brain haemorrhage.

Coming down

After using ecstasy, people may experience a “coming down” phase and may experience some of the following:

  • physical exhaustion
  • depression and irritability
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • difficulty concentrating.


These effects of coming down usually begin the day after taking ecstasy and can last for several days.

Long-term effects

There is some evidence that ecstasy can cause damage to some parts of the brain and that regular, heavy use can lead to depression.

A person taking ecstasy regularly may find that they are not eating or sleeping enough and are neglecting their health. They may become “run down”, have reduced energy levels and be more at risk for colds, flu and infections.

Other effects of ecstasy use

Social problems

All areas of a person’s life can be affected by drug use.

  • Disagreements and frustration over drug use can cause family arguments and affect personal relationships.
  • Legal and health problems can also add to the strain on personal, financial and work relationships.

Taking ecstasy with other drugs

The chances of an overdose are increased if ecstasy is taken with other stimulant drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine. This can increase effects such as heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety.

Taking ecstasy with benzodiazepines to help with the symptoms of the “comedown” can lead to a cycle of dependence on both drugs.

Using ecstasy and drinking alcohol at the same time can lead to dehydration and overheating, and can also increase the negative effects of comedown.

Taking ecstasy while on some antidepressant medication can lead to some unpleasant effects such as increased heart rate, loss of coordination, nausea and vomiting.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Read about the effects of taking drugs during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Driving

It is dangerous to drive after using ecstasy. The effects of ecstasy, such as over-confidence and poor muscle control, can affect driving ability. People with over-confidence may take more risks when driving which increases the chances of an accident.

The symptoms of coming down and withdrawal can also affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

Read more about the effects of ecstasy on driving.

Ecstasy use in the workplace

Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employees have a responsibility to make sure they look after their own and their co-workers’ safety.

The effects of ecstasy such as over-confidence and poor muscle control can affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively. The symptoms of coming down and withdrawal can also affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively.

Preventing and reducing harms

Ecstasy is commonly taken at dance or “rave” parties and nightclubs. In these environments, people taking ecstasy may be more likely to engage in energetic dancing which can raise body temperature to dangerous levels. It is therefore advisable to take regular breaks to cool down and drink about 500ml of water per hour.

Drinking too much water while taking ecstasy is also dangerous, as deaths have occurred from dilutional hyponatremia—a condition whereby a person’s brain swells from drinking too much water, inducing a coma.

Tolerance and dependence

There is evidence that after prolonged use, ecstasy can be psychologically addictive. People who are psychologically dependent on ecstasy may find they feel an urge to use it when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends.

At present, there is no conclusive evidence that people can become physically dependent on ecstasy.

People who use ecstasy regularly can develop a tolerance to it, which means they need to take larger amounts of ecstasy to get the same effect. However, research suggests that using larger amounts of ecstasy will increase the severity of undesirable effects, rather than increase the pleasurable effects.

Withdrawal

If a dependent person stops taking ecstasy, they may experience withdrawal symptoms because their body has to get used to functioning without ecstasy. These may start about 12 hours after the last dose.

While severe physical symptoms are uncommon, ecstasy withdrawal can cause problems such as:

  • cravings
  • sleepiness
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • loss of concentration
  • insomnia
  • restlessness
  • agitation
  • general aches and pains.

Getting help

Treatment

In Australia, there are many different types of treatments for drug problems. Some aim to help a person to stop using a drug, while others aim to reduce the risks and harm related to their drug use. Find out more about treatment.

What to do if you are concerned about someone’s ecstasy use

If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.

What to do in a crisis

Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.

If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using ecstasy, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. A quick response can save their life.

Visit the Better Health Channel to read St John Ambulance’s advice on drug overdose.

Ecstasy use in Australia

According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, in 2010, 10.3 per cent of Australians aged over 14 years had used ecstasy at some stage in their life.

For more statistics about the use of ecstasy in Australia, visit our Quick statistics page.

Is it legal?

Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making, selling or driving under the influence of ecstasy. There are also laws regarding the possession of pill presses.

Read more about drugs and Australian law.

For legal advice specific to your situation contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.

National drug policy

Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation.

Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.