Brain and Body

9 Things That Happen in the Brain and Body on MDMA

June 24, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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From intense euphoria to the MDMA “hangover.”

One of the key findings in the 2016 Global Drug Survey was that it’s the “worst time in a generation” to be using MDMA, given the concerning spike in the number of MDMA users who require emergency medical attention after consuming the drug.

Whether in the form of ecstasy tablets or crystallized “Molly,” MDMA continues to be a popular choice among club-goers and ravers.

Interestingly, MDMA has shown therapeutic benefits in laboratory settings, and may even be on its way to becoming an FDA-approved drug in the next 5 years.

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Let’s take a look at what actually goes on in the brain and body under the influence of the drug, scientifically known as methylenedioxymethamphetamine.

1. High amounts of serotonin are released

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, social behavior, appetite, sexual desire, and sleep, is released in high amounts after an individual takes MDMA. This is why users often report feeling extremely happy, more social, and an increased sense of empathy towards others.

2. Dopamine and norepinephrine are also released

Although the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine aren’t released in as high amounts as serotonin, they still play a key role in MDMA’s effects on the brain. Dopamine is commonly associated with the “pleasure system” of the brain, and norepinephrine is involved with adrenaline and the “fight or flight” response.

3. Cortisol levels go up

The levels of cortisol, a common stress hormone, increase after an individual takes MDMA, which can explain why many users report difficulty sleeping after “rolling,” the colloquial term for taking MDMA or ecstasy.

4. Sensory perception is enhanced

MDMA users often cite enhanced sensory perceptions as a hallmark of the drug, explaining why it’s so popular at club scenes with loud dance music and funky light shows.

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5. A focus on positivity and openness while weakening negative experiences

Research has shown that, while under the influence of MDMA, people are able to strengthen their positive memories and weaken their negative ones, potentially even becoming able to come to terms with their negative experiences and see them in a new way.

This is exactly why the drug is being explored as a therapeutic treatment for people with PTSD.

Jonathan Lubecky, a former soldier who came home from combat with debilitating PTSD, told The Science Explorer that he never wanted to talk about his struggles because of the emotional and physiological response that would follow.

“Under the influence of MDMA, I was able to talk about and work through these things without having that physiological reaction,” he said. “It kind of rewires the brain back to baseline before the PTSD.”

6. Sweating and dehydration

It’s important to stay on top of drinking water while taking MDMA, because common adverse health effects include sweating and dehydration, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

7. Involuntary jaw clenching

MDMA users often report involuntary teeth clenching and teeth grinding while under the influence of the drug. This is why ravers are sometimes seen with lollipops, gum, or baby pacifiers in their mouths.

8. The effects last for 3 to 8 hours

As AsapSCIENCE explains in a video, the effects of MDMA can last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, but once the drug wears off, there can be other lasting effects.

9. MDMA “hangover”

Since MDMA releases so much serotonin, the body then destroys more serotonin than usual, according to AsapSCIENCE. Therefore, once the drug wears off, people are left with less serotonin than usual, which can lead to feelings of depression, irritability, and tiredness.

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