MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly) is a relatively popular “club drug” associated with parties and other large gatherings of young adults. Current research indicates that this drug produces some of the symptoms that help define the presence of physical substance dependence. However, evidence for this dependence is not as clear as the evidence associated with well-established addictive substances such as alcohol or cocaine.
In a study published in July 2014 in the International Journal of Drug Policy, a team of researchers from Finland and the United Kingdom used anonymously gathered survey information to determine if habitual MDMA users view themselves as dependent on intake of the drug.
A dependent substance user has a physically established need to keep taking the substance in question in order to feel functional or “normal.” As a rule, dependence is the end product of repeated use of a substance that significantly boosts the levels of a chemical called dopamine produced in the brain’s pleasure center (among other locations). Spikes in dopamine levels trigger a highly pleasurable feeling called euphoria, and any substance associated with a rise in euphoria is typically likely to serve as a target of misuse or abuse for considerable numbers of people.
Unfortunately, when the human brain tries to adjust to constant or recurring increases in its dopamine levels, it can come to treat the change in its chemical environment as a necessary given. Dependence begins when the brain makes this switch in its basic chemical requirements. In addition to alcohol and cocaine, substances clearly capable of producing physical dependence with repeated use include methamphetamine, amphetamine, opioid drugs and medications, sedative-hypnotic medications (also known as tranquilizers), marijuana and nicotine.
MDMA And Dependence
MDMA is a hybrid drug that has some of the properties normally associated with amphetamine and other stimulants, as well as some of the properties normally associated with various types of hallucinogens. Users of the drug commonly experience effects that include euphoria, sensory hallucinations and an increase in central nervous system activity that manifests in such ways as a rise in blood pressure and heart rate. Currently, there is no clear scientific consensus on MDMA’s capacity to produce physical dependence and addiction. However, several changes associated with habitual use of the drug indicate that dependence may occur in some individuals. These changes include a need to take more of the drug in order to gain the desired mind-altering effect, continuing intake of the drug after clearly negative episodes of use and the appearance of a withdrawal syndrome when a user stops consuming the drug or substantially cuts back his or her typical level of intake.
What Do MDMA Users Think?
In the study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and King’s College London used anonymous survey data gathered in late 2010 and early 2011 to investigate how MDMA users view their potential for dependence on the drug. All of the survey participants were frequenters of a British website dedicated to dance music. The researchers used the information provided by these participants to identify dependence on MDMA, as well as three other drugs commonly consumed by MDMA users: cocaine, a “bath salt” ingredient called mephedrone and the abused anesthetic ketamine. The criterion for dependence was the presence of at least three dependence/addiction symptoms outlined by the American Psychiatric Association.
After analyzing the survey results, the researchers concluded that the respondents were more likely to report the presence of symptoms indicating MDMA dependence than the presence of symptoms indicating a dependence on cocaine, mephedrone or ketamine. However, they also concluded that the survey respondents were significantly less inclined to want help for their MDMA-related issues than for their cocaine-, mephedrone- or ketamine-related issues. In addition, the survey respondents were less inclined to want to reduce their MDMA intake.
The study’s authors found that, compared to the other drugs under consideration, the survey respondents viewed MDMA as both the most pleasurable to use and the least likely to cause them harm. They believe that these facts help explain why dependent users often don’t view their reliance on the drug as a problem. The authors also believe their findings indicate that self-perceived harm may not be an appropriate criterion for judging the impact of MDMA dependence.
Learn More: Bath Salts vs. Ecstasy – The Study