What are the long-term effects of ecstasy?

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, can have long term effects on the brain. MDMA is a central nervous stimulant that increases the activity of three main neurotransmitters including: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Research has shown that regular consumption of ecstasy, especially in high doses, can cause permanent damage to nerve cells. This can cause individuals to have a bad memory and feel regularly depressed. Individuals may also feel regular spouts of confusion, anxiety, paranoia and can find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.

What is ecstasy?

The official name for the active drug commonly found in Ecstasy is Methylenedioxy-Methamphetamine often referred to as MDMA. MDMA is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. It also acts as both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. Ecstasy comes in a pill form and can appear in a range of colours, sizes, shapes, and is likely to be stamped with various logos. The ingredients of these pills can also vary and are unlikely to be pure MDMA. Instead they may contain other additives such as cocaine, ketamine, methamphetamine, cough medicine or bath salts.

Ecstasy/MDMA may also be referred to as Molly, flippers, bikkies, E, pinger, and pills. MDMA can also come in a powder or crystal form. This may be pure, however most street accessed drugs are likely to also contain additional additives. As an illicit substance there is no regulation and you can never be certain of what is completely being consumed.

How does ecstasy affect the brain?

The effects of MDMA can start to be felt about 20 minutes after being taken and generally lasts for 3 – 4 hours. This may include feelings of euphoria, increased energy and confidence, along with increased affectionate displays towards others.

MDMA enhances the release of neurotransmitters and/or blocks their reuptake. This results in increased neurotransmitter levels within the space between the neurons of a synapse (the synaptic cleft).

When MDMA is ingested, more serotonin and norepinephrine are released than dopamine. Serotonin plays an important role in mood regulation, sleep, pain, appetite, and other behaviours. Due to large amounts of serotonin being released, the brain is depleted of this important neurotransmitter which can contribute to the negative psychological effects (e.g. paranoia, depression, anxiety, poor memory )that may be experienced for several days after MDMA use.

Long-term effects of ecstasy/MDMA.

Chronic MDMA use may potentially causes long-term mental and physical health effects. In 2019 a human study into the effects of chronic MDMA use suggested that a decrease in SERT (serotonin transporters) density was consistently associated with heavy MDMA use. This may cause changes in verbal, visual, and short-term memory, reasoning, and recognition.

Most studies into the long term effects of MDMA have been animal studies and not human studies. More research is needed to confirm further long-term effects on humans.

The primary effects of MDMA last for an average of 3 hours, however it can take up to 40 hours for the drug to clear your system. There are some effects that may occur within days or weeks of use.

Long-term effects may include:

  • Psychosis
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Arrhythmia
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Changes in memory and cognitive function
  • Cracked/Damaged teeth due to grinding
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems

Short term effects

When ecstasy is used in conjunction with vigorous physical activity it can result in dehydration. This may lead someone to drink lots of water, however MDMA also causes the body to retain water and this can increase the risk of electrolyte imbalance or brain swelling. It is advised to sip water and to take regular breaks from activity while under the influence of ecstasy.

MDMA overdose is possible and can be fatal. Some of the signs of an overdose are:

  • Agitation
  • Irrational Behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Convulsions
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Chest Pain
  • High blood pressure
  • High temperature

Ecstasy overdose can lead to coma or death. Call 000 for an ambulance if you believe someone has overdosed on MDMA. Ambulance officers do not have to contact the police.

Other short-term effects of ecstasy may also include:

  • Impaired judgement
  • Confusion
  • Sleep problems
  • Severe anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Drug cravings
  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Faintness and chills
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Blood pressure increases
  • Eye twitching

How and where to get help

Arrow Health offer many treatment options including:

  • 28-day detox program
  • Inpatient rehabilitation
  • Outpatient program
  • Forensic services
  • Counselling

So, if you are experiencing negative symptoms of long-term ecstasy use, get in touch with us at Arrow Health. If you are unsure if you are experiencing addiction or substance use disorder, reading our blog post on ‘What Is Addiction’ may help.


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