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Published 20 December 2005. Updated 2 September 2009

Ecstasy is a central nervous system stimulant, and its chemical name is MDMA. Ecstasy is also known as E, XTC, ADAM, Disco Biscuits, Love Doves etc. Ecstasy can be classified as a hallucinogenic amphetamine. Ecstasy was developed as an appetite suppressant in 1912, but it was never marketed as a medicine.

On the street ecstasy is sold as capsules or tablets of various shapes and colours. Mostly it is sold as white tablets. An English study revealed that less than half of the products bought as ecstasy actually were pure MDMA. In addition to ecstasy, the products may contain e.g. LSD, amphetamine, caffeine, or substances used in anaesthesia, like ketamine or barbiturates, which may have dangerous side-effects. It is impossible to know just by looking at the tablet what kind of a combination has been used.

Ecstasy starts to take effect about 20 minutes after it has been taken and the effects may last for several hours. After the initial 'rush', the user will become calm and euphoric and will sense colours and sounds very strongly. For some, ecstasy may cause nausea and stiffness of the limbs and jaw. Other immediate effects include sweating, dryness of the mouth, loss of appetite and increased heart rate. Ecstasy is a stimulant and as such it is particularly dangerous for people who suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, epilepsy, diabetes or asthma.

People often connect adolescents' rave parties with the use of ecstasy. In Europe music and synthetic drugs have become connected along with the rise of house, rave and techno cultures. Ecstasy elevates the body temperature and as the body is also strained by hours of dancing, it may lose plenty of fluids. In order to avoid dehydration, a small amount of water, juice or sport drinks should be drunk hourly - alcohol should be avoided as it promotes dehydration. On the other hand, drinking plenty of mere water may also cause the salt balance of the body to collapse. It is therefore good to have a snack every now and then when dancing.

Ecstasy is also used in Finland outside youth dance culture, including among other drug users. It should also be mentioned that not all rave parties are linked to the use of ecstasy and other drugs – only some people who attend raves and similar parties use drugs.

There is insufficient research data on the risks of ecstasy use. It is known, however, that high doses or long-term use of ecstasy may cause restlessness, panic attacks, phobias, paranoia, depression, insomnia, anorexia, weight loss or changes in the liver functions.

Raija Harju-Kivinen
Master of Health Administration


For more information

Drugs and the Brain animation explains how different substances affect users’ thoughts and actions through the transmitters in the brain.


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