Teenagers’ incomes and substance abuse histories can be used to predict who is most likely to use MDMA (Molly, Ecstasy), an illegal drug that straddles the line between stimulants and hallucinogens, a new study finds.
Use of MDMA among American teenagers is generally low; however, significant numbers of teens still consume the drug. In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, researchers from New York University’s Langone Medical Center used data from a nationwide project called Monitoring the Future to identify those U.S. teenagers enrolled in 12th grade who are most likely to get involved in MDMA use/abuse.
MDMA (Molly, Ecstasy)
How It Works In The Body
MDMA is the convenient shorthand for a tongue-twisting, manmade chemical formally named 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. Once it travels through the bloodstream to the brain, this chemical produces its mind- and body-altering effects by altering the normal levels of three chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, which carry signals between the brain’s nerve cells. Stimulant-like impacts of these chemical changes include an increase in the rate of nerve cell communication inside the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and related increases in heart rate, body temperature and energy levels. Hallucinogenic impacts of MDMA exposure include an impaired ability to track changes in time and alterations in the accuracy of the information traveling to the brain via the five senses. Additional effects of the drug include an increase in friendly/benevolent moods and an increase in a form of pleasure known as euphoria.
Repeated users of MDMA (including Ecstasy and the supposedly more pure form of the drug known as Molly) can develop at least some of the telltale symptoms that doctors use to diagnose cases of substance addiction. MDMA users also run risks for some of the same types of problems that affect users of other stimulant drugs, including dangerous spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. When consumed in large amounts in high-heat environments, the drug can also contribute to the onset of a potentially fatal loss of normal temperature control known as hyperthermia.
Popularity Among Teenagers
Monitoring the Future is conducted annually on behalf of the National Institute on Drug Abuse by researchers headquartered at the University of Michigan. The survey tracks substance use and substance-related attitudes among a nationally representative group of 12th graders, as well as among equivalent groups of 10th graders and eighth graders. The results from the 2013 version of Monitoring the Future (released in late summer 2014) indicate that the popularity of MDMA has fluctuated among American teenagers since reaching peak levels in 2000-2001. Currently, approximately 1.5 percent of 12th graders use the drug at least once a month; rates of monthly use among 10th and eighth graders are 1.2 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Between 2012 and 2013, the popularity of MDMA rose a statistically insignificant amount among both 12th graders and 10th graders.
Which 12th Graders Are More Likely To Use MDMA?
In the study published in Substance Use & Misuse, the New York University researchers used data from multiple years of Monitoring the Future (2007 to 2012) to identify those 12th graders most likely to consume Ecstasy or Molly. A total of 26,504 teens in this grade submitted information to the survey during the years under consideration. The researchers used the consumption of any amount of MDMA throughout each student’s senior year as the baseline designation for Ecstasy and Molly use, rather than the per-month figures often used when making statistical comparisons.
All told, about 4.4 percent of all 12th graders used MDMA at least once annually during the years under consideration.
Several groups of high school seniors had unusually high chances of consuming the drug. These groups included:
- 12th graders living in urban areas
- 12th graders with a job-related income of more than $50 per week
- 12th graders with a per-week income of more than $10 from a source other than a job
- 12th graders who have ever smoked marijuana or cigarettes, consumed alcohol or consumed some other prohibited substance
Groups with unusually low chances of consuming MDMA included:
- African American 12th graders
- Hispanic/Latino 12th graders
- 12th grade girls
- Religiously-oriented 12th graders
- 12th graders living in two-parent households
The study’s authors concluded that, for reasons related to socioeconomic background and substance use history, some American 12th graders have substantially increased chances of getting involved in MDMA use/abuse. The authors note the recent uptick in MDMA popularity and encourage public health officials to use their findings to help identify those people most likely to consume the drug.
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