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Teen Ecstasy Abuse

Teens who start their night taking ecstasy before hitting a club or rave often end it in the emergency room, faced with dehydration after mixing it with alcohol or overdose from a dirty batch. If you think your son or daughter is getting high on E before parties, it's time to take action.


14 min read

Why Is Ecstasy Dangerous?

Ecstasy — or MDMA, in its purest form — has posed a threat since gaining popularity in the 1980s. Teens “rolling” on ecstasy are susceptible to high-risk behavior, severe dehydration, elevated heart rate and other dangers. But the dangers have exploded due to impure ecstasy being passed off as pure. It’s estimated that only 5% of ecstasy pills are pure MDMA; most pills are only 5–10% pure.

glow sticks at rave

These pills are chock-full of random additives (including sugar and caffeine) and a smattering of harmful illicit drugs, such as meth, cocaine and experimental research chemicals designed to imitate the effects of MDMA. Some estimates place ecstasy pills that contain some amount of meth at 15–20%.

Chemicals commonly found in impure ecstasy include:

  • Ephedrine (a stimulant)
  • Dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant)
  • Ketamine (a tranquilizing drug)
  • Synthetic cathinones (psychoactive chemicals associated with bath salts)
  • C-I, 2-MEC and 4-MEC (research chemicals)

A teen may feel prepared to handle the high of ecstasy. But when they believe they’re buying “ecstasy” from a dealer, what they’re often getting instead is a buffet of other, even more dangerous ingredients. The recent torrent of teen ecstasy abuse is mostly due to the drug’s arrival in the mainstream. Among the most popular party drugs for several decades, ecstasy has recently become the “it” drug around schools, parties and live music events.

The number of ecstasy-related ER visits doubled from 2004 to 2013, and there was a 14-fold increase of confiscations in the U.S. between 2008 and 2012. While teens may shy away from harder illicit substances, ecstasy is quickly becoming a fixture of teen life like alcohol and marijuana. In fact, in 2010, 10% of teens reported using it within the last year.

As of 2012, 16 million Americans say they’ve used ecstasy at some point in their life, with nearly 900,000 trying it for the first time that year alone. The average age for first-time users is 20, but there are reports of kids as young as 10 winding up in the hospital from a bad experience on the drug.

Street Names for Ecstasy

Your child may know of ecstasy by a number of different slang terms. Make sure you stay current on the drug nicknames that are popular in your area.

Street names for ecstasy include:

  • Molly
  • X
  • E
  • Rolls
  • Beans
  • Mandy
  • Hug Drug
  • Candy
  • E-bombs
  • Skittles
  • Dancing Shoes

Where Would My Teen Get Ecstasy?

teens dealing ecstasy

Due to the drug’s widespread popularity, your teen likely knows someone who has at least tried the drug and possibly someone who sells it directly. In 2012, 44% of high schoolers said they knew a classmate who sold drugs, and 7% said ecstasy was sold at their school.

Ecstasy and Music Festivals

The nickname given most liberally to pure MDMA these days is “molly.” It is among the most popular music festival drugs, often distributed at concerts and live music events.

Due to the “all ages” access to many of these shows and the environments awaiting them inside (i.e. venues that are noisy, hot and overcrowded), kids can get lost in these shows and make very poor decisions. Shady drug dealers will work through these crowds and sell molly (or whatever they decide to pass off as the drug) to excited teenagers. Between buying dirty drugs, not knowing how much to take and not staying hydrated in the tightly-packed event, the dangers of teen ecstasy abuse are amplified at these events.

Despite security measures, it’s difficult for concert venues to monitor everyone’s activities on premises — and these concerts in particular can be extremely loud, smoky and dimly lit. If your son or daughter says they’re going to a concert, be sure to warn them of molly, and keep tabs on their whereabouts throughout the evening.

Why Would My Teen Use Ecstasy?

Your teen may give ecstasy a try for several reasons. Just as with most cases of teen drug abuse, ecstasy can be enticing to a teenager as they make new friends, attend their first parties and also cope with the struggles of getting older.


For teens discovering their independence and attending their first unsupervised parties, the promise of the drug’s buzz can be reason enough to try it. Users report a certain euphoria that is almost cliche: smiling, hugging and long, thoughtful conversations. This can seem hard to pass up for a teen in their experimental and adventurous high school and early college years.

Peer Pressure

If a teen doesn’t seek out the drug themselves, it’s possible that a good friend or classmate will bring it up or offer it — either after school, at a party or at a concert. Teenage peers can be extremely convincing, speaking highly of the drug and ensuring your teen that it’s safe to try. Some form or peer pressure, suggestion or invitation is the way many teens wind up experimenting with ecstasy for the first time.

Ecstasy for Depression

Ecstasy is widely known to elevate mood, even if only briefly (and followed by serious side effects). Still, this short term boost often appeals to someone battling teen depression or working through difficulties at home or at school. Ecstasy is no cure for depression, however; it often worsens issues in the long run.

Ecstasy abuse is also one of the major causes of teen suicide. A 2011 study from the National Institutes of Health shows that young adults who’ve used the drug in their lifetime are twice as likely to die from suicide than teens who only use other drugs. They’re also 9 times more likely to die from suicide than adolescents with no history of illicit drug use. Almost 19% of teens in the survey who had used ecstasy attempted suicide in the year prior to being interviewed.

Media Influence

Paired with its mainstream popularity at live events, ecstasy has enjoyed a slew of references in pop culture. It’s been mentioned in major radio hits by superstar entertainers like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus, and has been featured in Hollywood hits like The Interview. The popularity of ecstasy is also evident online and across social media, where today’s teens spend much of their free time. It’s important to be aware of social network influence and to educate your kids on the dangers of ecstasy abuse.

What Are the Effects of Ecstasy Abuse?

If your teen takes ecstasy, its effects can range in severity depending on what’s actually in the pill. It’s likely that these effects will be harmful in the long term. Pure MDMA, which is what all ecstasy aspires to be, has a very powerful effect on the body and especially the brain. Even if a teen gets a pure dose, they’re opening themselves up to serious ramifications no matter how equipped they think they are for handling them.

How the Body Is Affected

MDMA impacts the body in both the short- and long-term. While rolling on the drug, your teen’s body temperature will rise to dangerous levels — up to 105–108 degrees — which can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, profuse sweating and faintness. This can pose a major threat if your teen is dancing in a crowded club — which is often the scene with this particular drug — and does not stay hydrated or get fresh air. Collapsing in this environment and under these conditions is often teens are taken to the ER from partying. Liver, kidney or cardiovascular failure are potential risks of a body’s overheating. Sometimes, this can also be fatal.

MDMA can affect the body in a number of other ways, including:

  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Increased blood temperature, breathing and heart rate
  • Blurred vision or nystagmus (rapid quivering of the pupils)
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Involuntary teeth or jaw clenching
  • Sexual dysfunction

How the Brain Is Affected

MDMA can drop the brain’s serotonin levels, especially if used heavily over time. This can lend itself to depression, memory loss and trouble learning or regulating one’s mood. A short-term depression is expected following even a one-time use of the drug. But if an MDMA habit prevents the brain from restoring itself completely, it can leave a teen with potentially permanent damage.

The effects of MDMA on the brain can also include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Prolonged cravings for the drug

Due to heightened senses and a “body high,” along with lowered inhibitions, ecstasy leads to promiscuity for many teens rolling at concerts or parties. Teens may wind up being overly physical on the dance floor, eventually engaging in sexual behaviors that they may not fully remember the next morning. For this reason, some consider ecstasy one of the more popular date rape drugs. Sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies are major risks when dealing with ecstasy.

What Is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is often a combination of synthetic chemicals intended to increase energy and produce a euphoric, warm feeling. It’s sold in pill form, but it can also be in a white or orange crystalline powder form. MDMA (short for 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) is the purest form of the drug, classified as an entactogen, a class of chemicals known for stimulating and improving mood. Most variations of ecstasy are attempts to recreate the pure feeling and low hangover produced by MDMA.

On a federal level, MDMA/ecstasy is a Schedule I drug, indicating the highest level of concern for abuse and addiction. Schedule I drugs meet the following conditions:

  • The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  • The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

If your child is high on ecstasy (also known as “rolling”), they may exhibit users empathetic, friendly, sensual and talkative. MDMA was developed in the early 1900s in Germany as a way to synthesize other pharmaceuticals, and psychiatrists in the U.S. adopted it in the 1970s as a psychotherapeutic tool. Because it helped enhance communication in patient sessions, it gained popularity and was sometimes called “penicillin for the soul.” It was finally banned in 1985 as a result of its abuse potential, side effects and lack of therapeutic value as determined by the DEA.

smiling woman dancing at club

The drug has since been a fixture at dance clubs and “raves” — techno concerts where rolling is encouraged and, sometimes, even expected. Raves are notorious for crowds high on ecstasy, getting close and dancing long into the night. Items such as glow sticks, furry boots and hats and multicolor bead jewelry are common rave accessories. These can help partiers high on ecstasy identify each other and can also be especially stimulating while on the drug.

Ecstasy causes the brain to unleash large amounts of serotonin and dopamine, chemicals involved in happiness and pleasure. This explains the sudden wave of euphoria and energy that users feel after using. Once the high wears off, though — usually 4–6 hours later — the depletion of seratonin and other chemicals can leave the user feeling depressed and fatigued. It can take several days to recover from this funk. The wear and tear caused by the drug leaves a physical impression as well, such as dark circles under the eyes and jaw pain caused by clenching and grinding.

How Is Ecstasy Used?

teen with ecstasy in mouth

Teens will typically swallow ecstasy pills, but the pills can also be crushed into powder and snorted. When MDMA is sold in powder form, teens will place small amounts on their finger and then lick it off. This is called “dabbing” or “taking dabs.” The drug can also be dissolved in water and consumed that way.

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Once a teen experiences the high of ecstasy, it can be difficult for them to return to a life without the drug. A study of young ecstasy users found 43% were dependent (i.e. finding they need the drug to function) and 34% met the criteria for ecstasy abuse (i.e. having an escalating and recurring habit).

man buying ecstasy pills with cash

As they abuse the drug more often, they develop a tolerance — their body needing higher doses of the drug to feel the effects. So while a teen abusing ecstasy (taking it often and in increasing amounts) might claim they’re not addicted, their health and their lifestyle might certainly indicate otherwise.

Signs of Ecstasy Abuse

club at night

If you have a close relationship with your son or daughter, it shouldn’t be hard to observe changes in their behavior and appearance. An ecstasy problem will result in late nights followed by long days of rest. Your teen’s energy levels can bounce around with the effects of the drug — very high when they’re on it and extremely low in the days after, along with a drained, hungover appearance. You might also look for signs that they’re rolling: enlarged pupils, overt happiness, jaw clenching, sweating and erratic behavior.

You may discover ecstasy paraphernalia — objects related to the drug — in their bedroom, laundry, car, backpack or around the house. These items can include small plastic bags, bits of aluminum foil or rave tools like glowsticks.

Teen ecstasy abuse might materialize in other ways. Some signs could include:

  • Problems at school or falling grades
  • Suspicious behavior and increased secrecy
  • Changing friend grounds
  • Avoiding family obligations
  • Money troubles
  • Inconsistent sleep schedule
  • Constant daytime depression

Does Your Teen Need Ecstasy Addiction Treatment?

If your teen is struggling with ecstasy, ecstasy rehab may help them recover before it gets worse. Ecstasy treatment programs include therapy and counseling sessions that uncover any major issues in their life, helping them realize what’s at stake if they continue abusing the drug. Recovery advisors can also point your son or daughter in the right direction for support groups.

Confronting your teen can be a very fragile, emotional event. It’s important to know that you’re not alone. Our recovery advocates are here to listen and to offer insight on addiction and treatment, and they can recommend a teen rehab facility in your area. Contact us today to find out what options are available for your family.



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