MDMA has many names, but is perhaps best known as Ecstasy. It is sometimes classified as a stimulant and does have similar properties to the amphetamines, although it also has some unique effects that distinguish it (Hermle et al., 1993; Shulgin, 1986). MDMA was legal in this country until 1985, when it was made a Schedule I drug. Prior to that, its use was unregulated and therefore legal.
The primary appeal of MDMA is its psychological effect, a dramatic and consistent ability to induce a profound feeling of attachment and connection in the user. The compound's street name is perhaps a misnomer; the Los Angeles drug dealer who coined the term "Ecstasy" originally wanted to call the drug "Empathy," but asked, "Who would know what that means?" (Eisner, 1968).
MDMA has long been known to damage brain serotonin (5-HT) neurons in laboratory animals (McCann & Ricaurte, 1993; Montoya, Sorrentino, Lucas, & Price, 2002). Although a minority of researchers disagree with the conclusion, it has become increasingly apparent over the past decade that MDMA is neurotoxic to humans. Furthermore, the neurotoxicity has real and functional implications (McCann, Eligulashvili, & Ricaurte, 2000; Montoya et al., 2002; Morgan, 2000; Sprague, Everman, & Nichols, 1998). Ecstasy use is associated with sleep, mood, and anxiety disturbances, elevated impulsiveness, memory deficits, and attention problems. Many of these disturbances appear to be permanent and seem likely to depend on the overall amount of MDMA consumed over time, but may be caused by as little as a single dose (Rodgers, 2000; Turner & Parrott, 2000).
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