Myths abound about the short-term and long-term consequences of use of MDMA, often called Ecstasy. MDMA is not new to the scientific community. Over 15 years of research conducted on animals has proven that MDMA damages specific neurons in the brain. Because of the difficulties of conducting similar research in humans, conclusive evidence of neurotoxicity in humans has not yet been established. However, a variety of studies have shown that some chronic, heavy users of MDMA have cognitive deficits.
MDMA (3,4-METHYLENEDIOXYMETHAMPHETAMINE) is a synthetic drug with both stimulant and hallucinogenic qualities. MDMA is sometimes referred to as a “designer drug.” A designer drug is one that is either a copycat of another drug (a variation of it) or a synthetic compound of two or more drugs. MDMA is the later—Its chemical structure is similar to methamphetamine, methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), and mescaline. MDMA use had been on the decline, but recent studies show that use of the drug is on the rise again.
The drug, once popular within the rave culture and in dance clubs, has now become widely available. Known as the “hug drug” or “feel good” drug, it reduces inhibitions, eliminates anxiety, and produces feelings of empathy for others. In addition to chemical stimulation, the drug reportedly suppresses the need to eat, drink, or sleep. This enables club scene users to endure all-night and sometime 2- to-3 day parties.
An alarming trend surfacing now is the number of polydrug users. Many users will, in combination with Ecstasy, knowingly use alcohol, methamphetamine, ketamine, marijuana, DXM, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, GHB and cocaine. The expression “Flipping” is street jargon that refers to the use of other drugs with Ecstasy.
The degree of harm from the use of these chemical drugs is not fully known at this time. Further scientific research is required. Experts in the field of addiction fear the worst, and state that over time, neurotoxicity, psychopathological disorders or brain damage can result from the use of Ecstasy or other similar chemical drugs. Although the most serious consequence is an overdose resulting in death, there are other significant issues related to even the occasional use of these drugs.
Other recognized concerns are driving while under the influence, sexual assault and/or unsafe sex (resulting in unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections), not to mention the future negative effects of drug use. Long-term usage of Ecstasy has been linked to serotonin depletion, which in turn has been linked to depression and suicide. The real danger of these designer chemical drugs is that users feel that these drugs are safe and benign and that they are in control. Even with occasional or weekend use, users may become addicted psychologically and will experience the related negative effects.
Chronic methamphetamine abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining, and among users who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses. Heavy users also exhibit progressive social and occupational deterioration. Psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions, mood disturbances) can sometimes persist for months or years after use has ceased. Over time, methamphetamine appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson’s disease, a severe movement disorder.
Acute lead poisoning is another potential risk for methamphetamine abusers. A common method of illegal methamphetamine production uses lead acetate as a reagent. Production errors therefore may result in methamphetamine contaminated with lead and there have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous methamphetamine abusers. Methamphetamine use can be lethal, addictive, and unpredictable. This drug has effects similar to those of amphetamine, yet the effects of methamphetamine are more damaging to the central nervous system.
Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it intravenously, the user experiences an intense rush or “flash” that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria – a high, but not an intense rush. Snorting produces the effects within three to five minutes, and oral ingestion produces effects within fifteen to twenty minutes.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Dilated Pupils
- Dry Mouth
- Decreased Appetite
- Rapid Speech
- Nasal Congestion
- Weight Loss
- Increased Heart Rate
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Increased Temperature
- Lack of Interest in Food or Sleep
There are more than 250 varieties of the coca plant, but only three are prominently used in the illegal cocaine trade. Huanuco coca is grown in Bolivia and Peru, Amazonian coca is grown in the Amazon River basin, and Colombian coca is grown primarily in Colombia. Despite small increases in the Plurinational state of Bolivia (6%) and Peru (4%), the total area under coca cultivation decreased by 8% in 2008, due to a significant decrease in Colombia (18%). The total area under coca cultivation fell to 167,600 ha, close to the average level of coca cultivation between 2002 and 2008, and well below the levels reached in the 1990s. In spite of this years decrease, Colombia remained the world’s largest cultivator of coca bush, with 81,000 ha, followed by Peru (56,100 ha). Estimated global cocaine production decreased by 15% from 994 metric tons in 2007 to 845 metric tons in 2008. This decrease is due to a strong reduction in cocaine production in Colombia (28%), which was not offset by increase in Bolivia and Peru.
There are two forms of cocaine: powdered cocaine and crack. The powered, hydrochloride salt form of cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Crack is cocaine that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. The form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that can be heated and its vapors smoked. Cocaine is the most potent stimulant of natural origin and is one of the oldest identified drugs. The pure chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, has been an abused substance for more than 100 years, and coca leaves, the source of cocaine, have been ingested for thousands of years. Pure cocaine was first extracted from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush, which grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia, in the mid-19th century. In the early 1900s, it became the main stimulant drug used in tonics and elixirs that were developed to treat a wide variety of illnesses. Today, cocaine is not used medically because of its high potential for abuse and addiction.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive talking
- Depression of excessive sleeping
- Long periods without eating
- Long periods without sleeping
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth and nose
- Disturbance of heart rhythm
- Chest pain
- Heart failure
- Respiratory failure
- Strokes and seizures
Crack is derived from cocaine. Cocaine (powder) is dissolved in a solution of ammonia and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water. The solution is boiled until a solid substance separates from the boiling mixture. The solid substance, crack cocaine, is allowed to dry and then broken or cut into “rocks,” each weighing from one-tenth to one-half a gram. Crack is most typically heated and smoked. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when it is heated. One gram of pure cocaine will convert to approximately 0.89 grams of crack cocaine. Crack is typically between 75-90% pure cocaine.
The effects of crack are similar to those of cocaine yet they occur more rapidly and are more intense but do not last as long as a cocaine high. Smoking crack can cause severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. Smoking crack also has more rapid addiction potential. Smoking crack delivers large quantities of the drug to the lungs, producing effects comparable to intravenous injection. These effects are felt almost immediately after smoking and are very intense, but do not last long. For example, the high from smoking crack cocaine may last from 5-10 minutes. The high from snorting can last 15-20 minutes.