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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Ecstasy

What is ecstasy?
Ecstasy or MDMA (its chemical name) is a hallucinogenic amphetamine that comes in pill form or a powder that is snorted or dabbed on the gums. The effects can be felt after around 30 minutes and tend to last 3 to 6 hours, followed by a gradual ‘comedown’. As with all drugs, its effect in each individual person can be hard to predict. The amount and the purity of the substance you are taking and your own emotional state at the time will influence your experience.

The purity of ecstasy is an issue because it can be cut with other substances. Andi thought he had taken pills that were not pure and Daniel said he really enjoyed the ecstasy he took but thinks that it was probably heavily cut with aspirin.
 
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Charlie describes the first time she tried ecstasy and the problem of impure ecstasy pills.

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In the second half of the year, my parents were away one weekend.    Two of my friends who had taken Ecstasy pills before had been mentioning MDMA for a while so I decided I wanted to try it.  They’d been taking pills since college, but I’d never gone near it.  I had friends who used cannabis in high school as well but I didn’t want to take it.  I was interested in reading about it, though. 
   
There’s a book called ‘Street Drugs’. I think it was written 1992, 1993 which is a tome of about 500 pages.  It’s written by a drugs worker about all the drugs he had encountered, and the problems they caused but also the history of the drug’s use and where, the properties of the drugs as well. It was pretty balanced illustration of drugs' positives and negatives.  I was quite well versed in drugs, I just didn’t have any particular desire to use them.

So it came to halfway through the first year of university – near Easter.  So we went in for 2 grams of Ecstasy in powder form.  I remember the powder being quite novel to them, I think it was when powder MDMA wasn’t so widespread as it is now.  The pill market was rubbish at this point, they were really impure.  And the powdered MDMA was sold at a reasonable price so we got some and took it when my parents were away.
 

Some young people have only used ecstasy/MDMA on specific occasions like music festivals, night clubs or at friends’ parties.
 

Hugh has only ever used MDMA and only uses it at music festivals. His first use was when one of...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Hugh' I’ve only ever actually done one drug. It’s MDMA and the reason I’ve done that is the first time I tried it was long after other people. It was in Year 13 I think. Like the most ridiculous way because someone thought it would be funny to put it in my drink. I mean like really awful, like a friend. Not a close friend but like and then I had, I was. I could tell I was on it and it, I didn’t feel that bad. And then that is literally only the only drug I’ve ever done since and I’ve only really. I did it a few times at university in London but mostly just at the festival because festivals are a time when it’s like, you know you’re not. You know it’s just a, not an excuse but it’s kind of a...
 
Ben' You do have a different mindset.
 
Hugh' It’s the only slightly acceptable environment where you can behave in that manner, kind of drinking all day.
 
 

Hugh thinks that experimenting is part of the university experience. In the last two years he...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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No. Well I mean I might if I’m drunk or every now and then if a load of friends are but I would never kind of buy it. I’ve never, actually I’ve never ever bought a drug ever. I’ve never bought anything so that’s quite. I’d only if it was offered I think.
 
And MDMA where have you tried it, with friends?
 
With friends and at festivals but again I’ve never bought it.
 
I’ve just, if friends have excess or something or they are ok. That was one thing I always said to myself, I would never, I’d never buy.
 
So you take them quite occasionally?
 
No, no not at all.
 
Not at all. Ok.
 
I mean I have over the last two years I’ve probably taken it about five or no maybe it’s been six and seven times I’d say.
 
But no I haven’t for example I haven’t done it all summer.
 
Always in the context of being with friends so in a...?
 
I mean yeah for example it’s a university thing all over again. I would never do it in [place] on like a normal night.
 
No?
 
No. It’s yeah I wouldn’t.
 
So why do you think you do it there, at uni?
 
Probably because it’s under the kind of title of, it’s the whole context of uni. It’s kind of experimentation and all that kind of stuff.
 
I don’t know. I think that it is actually an excuse for trying new things.
 
You know because I know with my parents that’s when they tried things and it’s when people are renowned for experimenting. 
 
What are the effects of ecstasy? 
Young people have very mixed opinions and experiences when it comes to ecstasy. When Joe took ecstasy he felt elated and close to the group of friends he was with. Chloe described the feeling of being on ecstasy as so ‘amazing’ that she had to stop taking it, or risk making a regular habit of it. Craig took some MDMA on a camping trip and wasn't very impressed – he just felt a bit ‘floaty’.
 
Daniel who is an ex-drug user and alcoholic describes ecstasy/MDMA as a ‘fabulous’ experience for non-addicts, but he cannot risk using any drugs because of his problems with addiction. Charlie believes that ecstasy has helped her deal with emotional issues going on in her life.
 
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Charlie thinks that ecstasy has helped her with her depression by showing her that you can see...

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I always struggled with depression.  I’ve had some manic spells, some long depressive spells.  I don’t struggle so much with feeling bad for long periods of time so much now.  In high school and through college I was having a really difficult time being happy.

And ecstasy - ecstasy taught me how to manage things. It’s one thing if you’re depressed to think “things are probably much better than I assume they are”, but you can’t really see them as being good.  That goes even if you logically can see that there’s no reason to feel bad.

But with ecstasy, well, you take it when you’re otherwise depressed and you can see everything in a completely different way.  You are actually seeing things as a happy person.  And that helped to show me that you can see the world in different ways, maybe even control how you see it a bit.  I noticed there were triggers that made me start thinking negatively about things, and there was stuff I could do to stop those triggers.

Ecstasy for me has been really helpful in showing me how to manage having moodswings, how to deal with getting depressed and getting manically happy.  E put you in a place where everything is fine – even bad things.  It removes any drama surrounding any issues you have and you can just see them in a rational light.  It’s great.
 
I mean apart from that I have learnt to identify triggers which tend to make me think negative thoughts. And... I’ve learnt how to dupe like for example if I’m. Most of the time I was very, very tired for a lot of the time when I was at school. I wasn’t sleeping very well. I mean, you know I had a very bad diet but now I notice if I start to notice the patterns of those thoughts emerging over the course of a day and I tend to go to bed early or I tend to put on a comedy show on the TV or listen to something funny. Like I’ve learnt how to manage things a lot better and that isn’t something that I did before I took ecstasy. And ecstasy did say, it showed me, you know, like the things which you may have anxieties about - you don’t have to have anxieties about them. You know that isn’t an unchangeable part of you.  Aging and experiencing more of life has obviously had its part to play but I think E has done a lot for me too.
 

What are the negative effects of ecstasy?  
Some of the people we spoke to who had used ecstasy had experienced negative as well as positive effects, especially after frequent use. They described problems like lack of energy and feeling depressed, anxious or paranoid. After taking ecstasy, users may feel very tired and low and need a long period of sleep to recover. This may last up to three or four days and is what’s known as the ‘comedown’.
 

Joe describes an ecstasy comedown' as the drug equivalent of a hangover.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I had what you, you call the come down the next day where you have the low after the high but, I was aware of that and it didn’t seem that bad to be honest I just felt pretty tired [slight laugh].
 
How did you feel
 
Just, quite lethargic, [sighs], just kind of lower, I wouldn’t say kind of depressed as such or anything but, just, the sort of, the low that you get after the high not necessarily always drug related even, if I do something now there’s adrenaline from doing something that, sports-wise, and get the adrenaline afterwards you always kind of get a low after the, after the buzzand it’s probably more, more low than, yeah, because the drug gives you quite a high, you have quite a low afterwards but, I guess the best way I can kind of describe is almost like similar to being sad, you just feel a bit, sad but, not badly, I was aware that you have the low after the high and someone had explained that to me so, I knew that’s what it was and it, and it was probably only the next day and then the, the following day after I was fine, it just what I’d call the, the drug equivalent of a hangover after you, you’ve got drunk and you have a hangover the next day it’s, I’d say it was the kind of the equivalent from having the ecstasy you have the, have the low the next day just, lie around, eat some food, watch some movies and then, yeah the day after that it’d be back to normal  
 

Chloe liked the feeling she got from ecstasy but the comedowns from it put her off from doing it...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Again what were your main motivations to do that? Why did you try them?
 
That was curiosity I’d say, definitely curiosity. With ecstasy was curiosity. I did my first, first pill at carnival, Notting Hill Carnival and I’m not going to lie it was the best carnival I’ve ever had. I’m not going to deny that the feeling of being on ecstasy is an amazing feeling but it’s so amazing that I’m never going to do it again because otherwise I won’t leave it alone kind of thing [laugh]. So I just leave it over there.
 
Can you elaborate more on that one. How many, for how long did you do it?
 
I wasn’t really using ecstasy every day or anything like that. It was here and there because the come down was so awful that you just felt the roof of your mouth was so sore. Your joints and body would ache, your jaw that could ache where it had been stuck like that because that’s what it does. Yeah and then I’d see some pictures of the night before and stuff and my eyes were like... and I looked like this and it’s just really bad [laugh].
 
I didn’t do that too often.
 
Ok so the come downs were quite?
 
Yeah they was bad. And plus my older sisters had always made. My older sisters had done them and they used to tell me stories of my dad making them after going to a rave and getting back at 6 in the morning pilling out of their faces. He used to make them sit in a chair in front of him and they had to come down there and learn their lesson. ‘You want to go and do that you’re going to sit there and you’re not going to go to sleep or [dda dda dda dda da]. You’re going to feel what you did last night kind of thing. Even though the best thing is to go to sleep, drink water, revive yourself and refresh your body. But that’s not what he did. I’d always heard of them talking about it but at the time I did actually feel like ecstasy was more of a sort of. I looked at it as a scummy drug. Like it had a stigma around it that only low life people did that kind of thing. And I didn’t see myself as low life even though on the outside perspective I probably was. Well I wasn’t but that would be people’s perceptions from an outside perspective, yeah.
 
 
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Harry has come to the conclusion that the euphoric feelings on ecstasy are not worth it because...

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What do you think when people say well ecstasy is the party sort of kind of pill that makes people feel happy...?
 
Only while you’re on it though and then, and then till about, some people would say like I don’t know until about well what I’ve experienced when I was enjoying taking it, there’d be a down side, you’d be quite numb the next day you wouldn’t be thinking many thoughts it would be the day after that I would say like Monday when you’d be back at school and you’d be, it would be until maybe about Thursday that you’d be thinking “Oh God what am I doing with myself this is really crap” and I’m thinking like “I’m failing in my course I’m doing this”. And it seems bizarre that it would be worth the buzz and it isn’t after a while, it really isn’t and it kind of because that comedown maybe like when you first start taking it, it kind of like lasts a day or two, or a day and then it gets to like I say to Thursday and then it gets longer and longer and longer the more you take it so after a while that buzz of feeling so euphoric and having like the time of your life yeah but it’s not real though it’s not real happiness like it’s just so synthetic and it’s yes it’s, it’s pretty fake really.
 
And then you have to…?
 

It’s covering up its just complete escapism like all drugs  

 
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Harry's comedowns from ecstasy became longer and were more emotionally charged. He started to...

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The come down as I found like as time went on like I was at first I would take it with a pinch of salt because naturally like I found I could, I’m a very confident person but drugs bring out such a weakness in me they especially like with mainly pills as in ecstasy and I suppose like doing cocaine to a certain extent, that brings out more anxiety but pills because they reduce your serotonin just like making you feel so unhappy and like looking at life in such a different way like whereas normally I say we were chatting like in a normal conversation I’d just be chatting to you how I am now also in a different light because we wouldn’t be doing this but like I mean I would be chatting to you normally and I’d be listening to what you’ve got to say. But the more, it’s almost like pick out the paranoia and like you have such low self esteem when you’re chatting to people and you’re sort of worrying like “Oh God how am I being perceived” and in a slightly different way than when, when you smoke skunk.
 
A year of doing like a lot of like MDMA pills and stuff and then it came to, one night in the summer the end of at the end of that sixth form year I went out and I started feeling really horrible like sort of like the first like the comedowns took longer and longer I mean like the way I was feeling I was thinking more inwardly thinking very depressed thoughts and it was such a new thing for me because when I was younger I’d view depression as such a weakness and I’d go, I would just view it as like “Well you’re depressed really well so fix up like what’s wrong with you?” And it’s only until like you start feeling those thoughts you’re actually like “Oh this is what it feels like” and...
 
Some young people had distressing experiences after taking ecstasy. In her teens, Michelle would often go to raves. On one occasion she took too many ecstasy tablets and ended up being violently sick. She began to pull her hair out and was unable to control herself.
 

Michelle used to go to raves and take lots of ecstasy. Looking back she thinks she took far too much and would look terrible the next day.

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Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
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Did you experience any, did you have any bad experience or? An experience which you were scared of?
 
We had gone to a rave in the town centre with him, and we had got in no problems, nobody asked us for ID because we were like done up to the nines and, I actually took some Ecstasy pills, and I had actually taken too many and, that night when I had taken too many I had really bad reaction to one I like I took, obviously to the amount that I had taken, and I just remember standing there in the middle of this place which, like was, it’s like the Guildhall where now I walk through to pay my bills, so you know, I see this place all the time that they had a rave there back in the day. And I remember just standing there and being really violently sick like, like proper like throwing up green stuff and everything and it was horrible, it was horrible. And like I would look round like and everyone else was the same, everyone was on Ecstasy and it was like kind of the culture of these events, I don’t think they do them anymore, but it was kind of the culture of, everyone done it there and you know, because it was so easily available to me, I mean I perhaps should have stuck with just the one or something and I might have been alright, but it was because my, like my friend’s boyfriend he sold them and so we were, again we didn’t have to pay for anything, I think when you don’t have to pay for stuff it makes it easier to take more of it and, you know, and, I mean he, in terms of like safety in these raves we was always okay because we knew that he would get us home safe and that but, looking back on it now the things we were, like the amount of pills we were putting down our throat it wasn’t a safe amount, in any shape or form, and it, it sort of showed in our health as well, like the being sick and the dizziness and the odd, and one time I was at a flat in the town, after one of these raves and I carried on taking some more pills when I got back to this flat. And I got really compulsive and started like pulling my hair out, like kind of just, like I couldn’t control it, it was like I just kept going like that, like to my hair, I kept fidgeting with it, and the next thing I know I had like clumps of like hair in-between my fingers where I had just been going like that for so long, like a compulsive thing, like we, a shaking of the lip and I will always remember like the next morning your mouth would be so dry and your lips would be in a terrible state because you had just bitten, you know, bit them or, been shaking and the stuff like, from obviously from the effects of Ecstasy and you did, and you obviously you don’t notice all these sort of thing at the time when you’re doing it, and it’s only the next morning and you think ‘gosh’ like ‘what have I done?’ you know and, I didn’t realise I was that bad last night.
 
Mixing ecstasy with other drugs
Harry mixed ecstasy and cannabis thinking that it would ‘take the edge’ off an ecstasy trip but instead of calming him he felt anxious and paranoid.
 
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Harry thinks that his emotional problems were due to a combination of doing ecstasy and smoking cannabis.

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And but it’s that, it’s that feeling but like I say but for months and months and months and it’s, what I think it’s more to do it’s like I think it’s the combination of taking like loads of ecstasy and MDMA which are very like sort of related and it’s that weakening of your mind and like and because the more you, the weakening your mind and then when you smoke cannabis you don’t look at the world in that happy light and you don’t look at analysing things and think creative thoughts it’s like the thoughts turn very much inwardly and like you’re, you’re sort of think like it turns around like flip side of everything it’s like there is a negative aspect of everything even if like I don’t know like well you think the worst of every single aspect of your life. But it’s that that brings it out it’s the combination of the two it’s not one or the other.
 
And over a period of time, I mean?
 
Over a period of time just completely smashing out drugs like in general but mainly ecstasy that’s the main thing that ruins, that ruined me at the stage in my life and then the final straw was the cannabis 
 


Last reviewed July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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