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Ecstasy: a parent’s guide

Image: Mushin

Ecstasy is on the rise again – especially among young people – and is available to buy on the dark web. Here’s what parents need to know

What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy (sometimes referred to as X, E, molly or MDMA, its chemical name) is a psychoactive drug used mainly for recreational purposes.

What does it do?

Ecstasy is popular at clubs and parties because it causes increased energy and euphoria. It might make sounds and colours seem more intense, and can make people feel more loving and affectionate towards others.

A typical dose takes effect after roughly 30 minutes to an hour, and usually lasts from three to six hours. It’s usually sold as pills, but can also be snorted, dabbed onto the gums or smoked in powder form.

The risks

One risk traditionally associated with ecstasy is that you can’t be sure what you’re getting. Most pills contain other substances as well as MDMA. And pills with the same ‘branding’ (many are stamped with letters or symbols) don’t necessarily have the same contents. This means you won’t necessarily know what the dose or effects will be, even if you’ve taken ecstasy before. 

Because every pill is different, they often take different amounts of time to kick in. Some users end up thinking their first dose didn’t work and taking a second, meaning they’ve ended up taking twice as much as intended.      

If you do manage to get relatively pure pills, there are still some risks. One of the most well-known side effects of ecstasy is interference with your body temperature – and since users often take it in hot, active environments like clubs, it’s easy to overheat or get dehydrated. But drinking too much water can be dangerous. Some deaths linked to ecstasy have actually been caused by overhydration.

Ecstasy is also associated with paranoia and unpleasant comedowns. Some users say they feel ‘flat’ or depressed for days after taking the drug, so recreational use at the weekend can interfere with mid-week responsibilities like work or school. And while research isn’t entirely conclusive about its long term effects, some studies have linked ecstasy use with brain damage.

Why is it gaining popularity with young people?

In addition to the possible influence of the online market, ecstasy may be increasing in popularity because purer pills are getting easier to come by. Around 2008, ecstasy in the UK went through a phase of very low purity (with many pills containing no MDMA at all) due to a global shortage of some of the chemicals used in production. Purity has since rebounded. Some experts also say the popularity of electronic dance music (or EDM) could be a factor, just as rave culture was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Talking to your child

Most young people have already heard the horror stories designed to put them off taking ecstasy, and while it can definitely be dangerous, scare tactics aren’t always effective.

Dramatic deaths linked to ecstasy use do happen, but these stories aren’t likely to ring true for young people whose friends have used it with no obvious ill effects.

If you’re worried that your children might be curious about ecstasy, try talking to them about the ways it could affect other aspects of their lives. As a Class A drug, consequences for ecstasy use can be very serious – and could interfere with work, education or even travel plans. This is especially true for anyone who supplies other people, even just their friends.

You can also try making sure your children are aware of some of the things that make drug use even more dangerous, like mixing substances (including alcohol), dehydration and overhydration.

Further reading

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​May 2018

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