In early January, 4 people died[i] in the United Kingdom as a result of what seemed like ecstasy (MDMA) use. Before understanding why the war on drugs contributed to, not prevented, these 4 people’s death, let’s take a look at ecstasy in itself.
MDMA was synthesized for the first time in Germany in 1912 as weight-loss drug, but was ignored until the 1960s when it was used as an aid for psychotherapy. The drug was then called “empathy” and no one would have thought of using it for recreational purposes. It was only in the 1980s when it began to be sold under the name of ecstasy in night clubs that it became popular. Like amphetamines, ecstasy gives its users huge energy boosts which makes it particularly prevalent in party settings. Like psychedelics, it also creates feelings of warmth and empathy towards others. A rush of euphoria can also be felt.
Ecstasy releases those effects by way of releasing serotonin and dopamine in the brain and central nervous system. Serotonin is a natural neurotransmitter (a chemical that helps carry messages around the brain) and helps regulate sleep, appetite, muscle contractions, mood and intestinal movements. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of pleasure. Users begin to feel the effects of MDMA 30-60 minutes after its ingestion, and the effects last between 4-6 hours.
Does ecstasy kill? The first deaths that involved ecstasy came from youngsters dying of dehydration[ii]. Several studies have shown that MDMA’s neurotoxicity comes from the rise in the body’s temperature[iii]. This rise of temperature is particularly important for badly ventilated nightclubs where ecstasy users dance.