In 2016, the Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report stated that nearly 30 million people aged 12 and older in the United States abused illicit drugs in the month prior to the survey, which is classified as currently abusing drugs. A vast majority of people who abuse drugs are young adults and adolescents, meaning they are between the ages of 18 and 25. Within this demographic, one out of every four people was classified as currently abusing illicit drugs at the time of the 2016 NSDUH. This demographic often chooses hallucinogens.
What Is Ecstasy?
Ecstasy is a synthetic hallucinogenic drug made from MDMA that can be manufactured in clandestine laboratories. It is often classified as a “club drug” due to its popularity on the party scene.
Around 1.4 million Americans were currently abusing a hallucinogenic drug at the time of the 2016 NSDUH, the largest percentage of which were young adults and adolescents between the ages of 18 and 25. The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey as published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that close to 3 percent of high school seniors admitted to using MDMA (ecstasy) in the past year.
MDMA is both a stimulant and a hallucinogenic drug, and it is generally taken in tablet form to enhance pleasure, the senses, and sexual experiences. It is also used as a “party drug.” Ecstasy impacts the brain by interfering with levels of some of its naturally occurring chemicals, or neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These chemical messengers help to regulate emotions, body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, sexual arousal, memory and learning functions, energy levels, trust, empathy, sensory perceptions, sleep, appetite, and movement abilities.
An ecstasy “high” typically lasts about 4-6 hours, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publishes, and the drug is often mixed with other substances when used. It is unclear how addictive ecstasy may be, NIDA explains; however, the drug can induce difficult withdrawal symptoms when it wears off, especially if a person takes it regularly or combines it with alcohol and/or other drugs. A specialized detox program can help to ease and manage ecstasy withdrawal.
Ecstasy Withdrawal Timeline
Ecstasy can produce intense euphoria, a sense of emotional closeness, heightened energy, increased sense of touch, a desire for sexual intimacy, distorted sensory perceptions, a decreased appetite, and less need for sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature are all heightened, and the drug can make a person feel happy and stimulated.
When ecstasy wears off, it can cause opposite reactions. This means that a person can be left feeling depressed, irritable, and fatigued during an ecstasy “crash,” or comedown. Ecstasy may then be taken in a binge pattern, either by “stacking” (taking multiple doses at once) or by “piggybacking” (taking doses back to back one after another).
Ecstasy may also be taken with other drugs or alcohol to counteract the negative side effects or in an attempt to elevate the high or drug-using experience. This not only raises the risk for a potentially life-threatening overdose, but it can also increase the amount and intensity of the withdrawal symptoms that occur when the drugs wear off. The more regularly a person takes ecstasy, the more significant the withdrawal side effects will be.
Detox is when drugs like ecstasy are processed out of the body. Detox can be performed in a specialized facility where individuals can be closely monitored and supervised to manage possible withdrawal symptoms. The general timeline and symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal and detox are outlined below.
Within 6-12 hours after taking ecstasy, the crash sets in and withdrawal begins. Symptoms include:
- Feeling “let down” and sad
- Decreased appetite
- Sleep issues
About 1-3 days after the last dose of the drug, withdrawal symptoms will typically peak. They include:
- Mood swings
- Memory, attention, and concentration issues
- Difficulties experiencing pleasure from sex and lack of interest in sexual activity
- Possible suicidal ideations
About 5-7 days after last taking ecstasy, withdrawal symptoms begin to ease; however, the following symptoms may linger:
- Sleep difficulties
- Trouble feeling pleasure
- Feeling “on edge”
- Memory and cognitive issues
One week to a few months after the last dose, withdrawal symptoms are typically significantly reduced; however, a few symptoms may continue, such as:
- Concentration problems
- Appetite issues
- Sleep disturbances
Ecstasy withdrawal can be highly variable, meaning that it will not be the same for everyone. Things like how much a person took and for how long contribute to the intensity of withdrawal. In addition, poly-substance abuse and certain biological and environmental factors will also affect the overall withdrawal process.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that about 8 million people in the United States struggled with both a mental health disorder and addiction at the same time in 2014. When a person suffers from co-occurring mental illness, ecstasy withdrawal can be amplified, and the side effects may be more pronounced. In some cases, an individual may struggle with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, making a medical detox program where there is constant supervision essential for withdrawal.
Managing Ecstasy Withdrawal
There is no specific medical treatment for ecstasy withdrawal, but a medical detox program can help to minimize the side effects. Medical detox programs have medical and mental health professionals on hand to monitor vital signs, offer support and encouragement, and regulate emotions and mood swings.
The main goal of a detox program is to help a person to become stable physically and therefore primed to enter into a comprehensive addiction treatment program. Detox can help to prevent and reduce episodes of relapse when coupled with a complete substance abuse treatment program.
An ecstasy detox program typically lasts 3-5 days, after which withdrawal side effects begin to wane and are less intense. In detox, individuals are provided with a calm and quiet environment that is free from outside distractions and temptations. During detox, trained professionals provide ongoing support and encouragement, and therapies to increase comfort and ease withdrawal symptoms.
With ecstasy withdrawal, physical symptoms are not generally as significant as they may be for withdrawal from other drugs; however, it is still helpful to monitor vital signs during detox. Ecstasy is a stimulant drug that interferes with normal heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature levels, and these vital life functions may fluctuate during withdrawal. Weight loss and appetite problems may need to be addressed during detox, as well as dehydration that can be induced by elevated body temperatures and increased activity levels while under the influence of ecstasy. Medications may be helpful during medical detox to help a person sleep or to regulate moods impacted by ecstasy withdrawal.
Since medical detox makes withdrawal more comfortable, it can minimize the potential for relapse. Overdose after a relapse is potentially life-threatening, so it’s important to take steps to minimize the risk of relapse.
A specialized ecstasy detox program can help a person to reach a safe level of physical and emotional stability. Following medical detox, a person will be ready for admission into a comprehensive addiction treatment program.