How Does MDMA Affect The Brain?

MDMA doesn’t just affect the body. The drug can also negatively affect the brain in a number of ways and cause long-term cognitive damage.

MDMA, also known as “Ecstasy” and “Molly,” is a popular party drug that produces euphoric feelings and increases energy levels. The drug’s effects, which can be unpredictable, range from heightened sensations, emotional warmth, self-confidence, and an overall sense of wellbeing to an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, hot flashes, muscle and joint stiffness, disorganized thinking, and a sense of detachment. But MDMA doesn’t just affect the body. The drug also changes the way the brain functions. In addition to increasing serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels, MDMA can change the structure of the brain and cause long-term cognitive damage.

What Is MDMA?

MDMA is a synthetic drug that combines the effects of amphetamine, a stimulant, and mescaline, a hallucinogen. The drug, which was created by German chemist Anton Kollöisch in 1912, was originally developed as a potential cure for internal bleeding and as a synthetic form of adrenaline. But since then, MDMA has become categorized as a Schedule I substance, meaning it has no acceptable medical use and has a high potential for abuse.

MDMA generally takes the form of a tablet or capsule, but the drug can also be a liquid or white powder. Ecstasy, the pill form of MDMA, generally comes in small, colored tablets that have a brand logo or cartoon character imprinted on them. Regardless of the form MDMA takes, the drug has a bitter taste.

As MDMA, which is also known as “Molly,” “E,” “X,” “XTC,” and “Adam,” stimulates the mind, the drug interferes with the brain’s delicate chemical balances, distorting the senses and causing a wide range of adverse and hallucinogenic effects.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of MDMA

MDMA’s effects begin about 30 to 45 minutes after the drug is consumed. At first, the amphetamine in MDMA stimulates the mind. This makes users temporarily feel euphoric, energetic, and confident. Other temporary peak effects of MDMA include:

  • A false sense of wellbeing
  • Increased sociability
  • Relaxation or calmness
  • Excitement
  • Enhanced self-awareness
  • Heightened sensitivity
  • Increased alertness
  • High levels of physical and emotional energy

These effects generally last anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, but when the high ends, the adverse effects begin, which can include:

  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Blurred vision
  • High blood pressure
  • Impaired judgment
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Muscle tension
  • Excessive chills or sweating
  • Eye twitching
  • Involuntary jaw and teeth clenching
  • Dehydration
  • Fainting

The longer individuals use MDMA, the more the drug continues to affect the body. Individuals who continue to use MDMA can actually experience some of the following long-term effects:

  • Psychosis
  • Convulsions
  • Cardiovascular complications caused by a dramatic heart rate increase
  • Liver and kidney failure caused by dehydration
  • Depression or severe anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Memory loss

As MDMA continues to interfere with serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels, the drug starts to negatively affect the brain.

What Does MDMA Do To The Brain?

Like most drugs, MDMA affects the brain by increasing the activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Even though this reaction initially produces euphoric feelings, this interference actually changes the brain’s chemical balance. As the brain starts to identify MDMA as a primary source of these chemicals, it stops producing serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine on its own. This causes neurotransmitter deficiencies, which is one of the first ways MDMA affects the brain.

1. MDMA Diminishes The Amount of Neurotransmitters The Brain Produces

As complex as the brain is, it relies on patterns and habitual behavior to function. When individuals continually use MDMA, the brain expects the drug to produce serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine on a regular basis. When individuals use MDMA, the drug floods the brain with these essential chemicals. When individuals don’t have MDMA in their system, the levels of these brain chemicals drop significantly.

In addition to regulating mood and behavior, serotonin affects sleep, digestion, blood clotting, bone health, and sexual function. Low levels of serotonin can cause:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Dementia and cognitive decline
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive behavior
  • Fatigue
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cardiovascular problems

Low levels of dopamine, the “feel good” chemical that also helps regulate body movements, motivation, learning, memory, concentration, and mood, can lead to:

  • Muscle cramps, tremors, and spasms
  • Low energy
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue
  • An inability to focus
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Anxious feelings
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Suicidal thoughts and self-harm

Norepinephrine helps provide energy to the body and enhances focus. When the brain doesn’t have enough norepinephrine, the following symptoms can occur:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation

2. MDMA Can Weaken Brain Areas That Regulate Cognitive Functioning and Impulse Control

Most people probably don’t think about the health of their brain when they think about self-control, but certain regions of the brain determine how well individuals control their impulses. MDMA can weaken these brain regions. Research shows that MDMA users have higher levels of neuronal activation in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that manages cognitive functioning and impulse control. This means that their brains have to work harder than non-MDMA users to complete tasks of equal difficulty. This also means that the brain has to work harder to control impulses.

3. MDMA Can Increase The Risk Of Memory Problems

MDMA weakens fibers in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for creating and storing memories. According to one particular study, MDMA users who took 10 or more ecstasy pills in a year experienced memory problems. The study also revealed that consuming small recreational amounts of MDMA during a short period of time can also cause memory impairments and short-term memory loss.

4. MDMA Can Change How The Brain Processes Emotions and Information

Brain scans of MDMA users repeatedly show decreased activity in parts of the brain that help individuals learn, memorize, and process emotions and information. Even though scientists don’t fully understand how MDMA affects parts of the brain including the parietal and medial temporal cortices, the amygdala, cingulate, and hippocampus, they do know that impaired functionality in these areas can change how individuals perceive emotional situations. This means that using MDMA can lead to long-term or permanent anxiety, depression, and in some cases, paranoia.

Reversing Brain Damage Caused By MDMA

The brain is a complex organ that helps to determine the quality of an individual’s life. Using MDMA can negatively affect the brain in a number of ways. Here’s the good news: the brain can rewire itself. Treatment programs like ours can help reverse some, if not all, of the negative brain changes that MDMA causes.

Contact us today if you or someone you know has been negatively affected by MDMA. Our brain-focused treatment programs can help individuals recover and live a thriving, purposeful life.

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Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.

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