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The Negative Effects That MDMA (Molly) Has on the Brain

MDMA is a drug that makes one feel euphoric and extremely rapturous, but once the MDMA is sweat out of the system, it leaves the mind tired and intensely depressed. This article will go more into depth about how MDMA affects the mind.

How your body, brain and emotions are after the MDMA wears off. Fact: MDMA users' brain has to work harder on simple tasks compared to non-MDMA users.

Looking at the American society, especially within its millennial subculture, drugs have become a huge commodity, from cocaine and marijuana to methamphetamines and psychedelics—although the main drug that has seemingly taken over the party scene recently in the past few decades is the drug commonly known as "Molly," ecstasy, or MDMA. This drug is used mostly at raves or clubs, where the atmosphere is to “party until you drop.” Basically, when a person takes molly, all of their senses are heightened and the person is given a euphoric feeling for about two to five hours. This drug can be consumed orally, sniffed, or any way one can ingest the substance.

Now, what many do not know is that there are different types of ecstasy or molly that one can purchase or consume. Pure MDMA comes in different shades of brown, in a crystallized form, and is usually put into a clear-capsule, and is the "safest" (does not cause too much harm) to ingest. Press-pills, on the other hand, are legal to buy in some European countries and are called press-pills because of the plethora of different drugs "pressed" together into pill form. Ingesting a press-pill can be extremely harmful and dangerous for the brain and body. This is because of all of the random chemicals that are put into the pill. Usually, the commonly used press-pills come with methamphetamine, cocaine, acid, and many other substances that can be damaging to the human body. Although this drug gives the users a rapturous feeling, what is within the drugs is what is extremely harmful to the human body, especially one's brain.

Specifically, MDMA or ecstasy increases the activity of at least three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of the brain), serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Like other amphetamines such as methamphetamines or adderall, ecstasy causes your brain to open its receptors to release serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine from their storage sites, resulting in an overload of neurotransmitter activity. Out of the three neurotransmitters, after taking ecstasy, more serotonin rather than dopamine or norepinephrine is released into the system (NIDA).

Serotonin is associated with functions of the brain such as, appetitive, emotional, motor-skills, cognitive and autonomic. Norepinephrine is a chemical that is released into the brain in response to stress, depression, and ADHD. This neurotransmitter basically counteracts adrenaline and allows your body calm itself. The last neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released for reward-motivated behavior. When a person takes MDMA, the excessive amount of serotonin, as well as the other two neurotransmitters, being released causes the user to have a mood-elevating feeling, hence the term given to MDMA as the party drug. There have been a great deal of studies showing damaging results to the serotonin-containing neurons, and some articles even say that the aftereffects may be long-lasting.

According to the Department of Psychology in the University of Wales, recreational use of MDMA can lead to mental disorders and mood changes such as, depression, sleeping, and anxiety disorders. It damages parts of the brain that are associated with hostility, impulsiveness, episodic memory, and attention working memory. Taken from clinical and preclinical experimenting on animals, the psychologists have found evidence that these cognitive damages/effects can last for at least six months after the person has stopped taking ecstasy. After six months, the psychologist found that hostility, impulsiveness, and depressive episodes still permit. All in all, the millennials who attend raves and clubs while on MDMA are extremely prone to long lasting cognitive impairments and disturbances in personality, which provides evidence that MDMA is a neurotoxin to the brain. The next article written about MDMA neurotoxicity supports that idea.

To be more specific about the effects that MDMA has on the serotonin receptors, according to the third article I read, ecstasy is an extremely potent 5-HT neurotoxin in animals, specifically non-human primates, like I have mentioned in the previous paragraph. 5-HT is a receptor of the chemical, serotonin. In a healthy brain, the chemical, [11C]McN-5652, binds nicely to the 5-HT transporter and helps the serotonin travel to its receptor (Ricaurte). Therefore, the brain can healthily complete its re-uptake of the neurotransmitters. But in MDMA users, the binding decreases and the serotonin has a very hard time traveling to its receptors. Because of the finding of a positive correlation between the decrease in [11C]McN-5652 binding and an extensive use of ecstasy, I can suggest that recreational use of MDMA in humans results in 5-HT damage to both the transporter and the receptor.

It is important to also consider the other drugs being consumed while on ecstasy, such as, if a person is taking a press-pill rather than pure molly, he/she can be taking anything from methamphetamines to bath salts. Also, people like to smoke marijuana and take benzodiazepines to cope with the side-effects of the “comedown” of MDMA. Knowingly or unknowingly taking the drugs with the ecstasy could also contribute to behavioral abnormalities. When looking at these effects of mixing drugs, one needs to remember all the other factors that can cause abnormalities in the brain such as, gender, genetic, and environmental factors, dosage, and frequency of usage of the drug.

From experience and my cousin and my friend who recreationally use Molly as a party-drug, the studies that I have read have just been providing more and more evidence that ecstasy causes long-term effects on the brain. Since my cousin has started using it, he has been acting more aggressive, more impulsive, and bipolar. I know that molly was the cause of these changes in behavior. He also likes to mix molly with marijuana and xanax. Since both release an excessive amount of dopamine and serotonin, my cousin will tend to be more “jumpy” with his emotions after he comes down from the drugs. From what I learned in class, the brain and its neurotransmitter receptors need to complete a re-uptake naturally to have a balanced brain and chemicals, but because my cousin constantly take MDMA, xanax, and marijuana, his brain has no time to re-uptake his serotonin and dopamine, which will then lead to mood and other abnormalities of the brain.

The other person I would like to talk about is my friend who, I believe, overdosed on ecstasy. My friend used to take drugs like it was nothing, and one day he took these yellow press-pills, and by the end of the night, he was asking me questions like, “Am I supposed to be here?” or “Do you want me to this?” It was like he didn’t have an independent voice or opinion anymore, and the scary thing was that this symptom lasted after the MDMA left his system. It turns out he had a predisposition to schizophrenia and the yellow press-pill he used caused it to surface prematurely. Now, I sent him to go get professional help, but the behavioral abnormalities still remain present till today when he talks to me over the phone. So, not only do I have empirical evidence, I also have real-life experience to prove the correlation and maybe causation between the neurotoxicity of MDMA and the changes in behavior of a person who is using the substance ecstasy.

In general, MDMA is not necessarily the underlying cause of behavioral abnormalities, but it definitely has a relation to the mood and personality disorders that come after the use of ecstasy. Personally, I used to be addicted to molly and I had no idea how harmful it was to my brain. From a year on molly, I developed severe depression and anxiety.  It also takes me longer to process information and make decisions. I went from mentally stable, to dependent on anti-anxiety and depression pills. MDMA is definitely harmful to the brain. Although it makes one feel euphoric, the longterm effects are not worth it. Trust me. 

Read next: Paranoia
Danyea Hays
Danyea Hays

Hello readers, my name is Danyea Hays and I am a psychology graduate.  You can find many psychology articles and personal essays on my page.  How you enjoy :)

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