I’ve taken a lot of MDMA in my life. It was fun, I had great experiences, but looking back – I never really grew as a person. In fact, I regressed tremendously as a result of casual raving on ecstasy.
And now, when I see people at festivals or EDM events popping molly, I can’t help but feel like they’re seriously messing up their brains.
Why did I stop?
I noticed that, after taking molly, my daily habits and routines would be completely out of whack for weeks or even months. It took that long to recover from a few days of fun. Insane.
In “falling off” my habits, there was a silver lining: I’d reached the point where success (gym, work, reading) was more validating than one-off party experiences. There’s a time and place to let loose, but it doesn’t require hard drugs.
A turning point
For the longest time, I’d been operating under the false belief that MDMA wasn’t so bad for you. In fact (I thought), it could actually be good for you. After all, it’s an effective treatment for PTSD and depression.
I found that, among my better-educated and more health-conscious friends who took MDMA, they generally operated under the assumption that MDMA is not such a bad thing.
Boy how wrong we were.
While researching the long-term side effects of another drug – modafinil – I came across this Tim Ferriss interview, where he mentions that the MDMA-is-okay assumption is false (around 1:20).
Much like MDMA, which was thought to have little side effects for a while. When in fact it turns your serotonin receptors into these wilted flowers.
Hey, wait a second. That doesn’t sound like the happy-go-lucky love drug I know.
So I dug a bit (went to Wikipedia), and what I found was a long list of very bad things that MDMA does to our brain. To really let this point sink in, let’s take a look:
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Adverse effects of MDMA
The most serious short-term physical health risks of MDMA are hyperthermia and dehydration. Cases of life-threatening or fatal hyponatremia (excessively low sodium concentration in the blood) have developed in MDMA users attempting to prevent dehydration by consuming excessive amounts of water without replenishing electrolytes.
The resultant hypervolemia can simultaneously cause both dilutional hyponatremia (which can cause brain swelling and seizures) and hypertension (which can cause stroke). In the case of excessive water intake, salt can be administered to increase osmotic pressure, but while this improves hyponatremia it can also further worsen hypertension.
The effects that last up to a week following cessation of moderate MDMA use include:
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Memory impairment
- Anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, music, sexual activities or social interactions.)
MDMA use has been shown to produce brain lesions, a form of brain damage, in the serotonergic neural pathways of humans and other animals. In addition, long-term exposure to MDMA in humans has been shown to produce marked neurotoxicity in serotonergic axon terminals.
Neurotoxic damage to axon terminals has been shown to persist for more than two years. Brain temperature during MDMA use is positively correlated with MDMA-induced neurotoxicity in animals. Adverse neuroplastic changes to brain microvasculature and white matter also seem to occur in humans using low doses of MDMA.
Reduced gray matter density in certain brain structures has also been noted in human MDMA users. In addition, MDMA has immunosuppressive effects in the peripheral nervous system, but pro-inflammatory effects in the central nervous system.
MDMA also produces persistent cognitive impairments in humans. Impairments in multiple aspects of cognition, including memory, visual processing, and sleep have been noted in humans; the magnitude of these impairments is correlated with lifetime ecstasy or MDMA usage.
Memory is significantly impacted by ecstasy use, which is associated with marked impairments in all forms of memory (e.g., long-term, short-term,working). Some studies indicate repeated recreational users of MDMA have increased rates of depression and anxiety, even after quitting the drug. Other meta analyses have reported possibility of impairment of executive functioning.
Evidence in animals and humans has shown that, at high doses, MDMA induces a neuroimmune response which, through several mechanisms, increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, thereby making the brain more susceptible to environmental toxins and pathogens.
Approximately 60% of MDMA users experience withdrawal symptoms, including, but not limited to: fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and trouble concentrating. Chronic use of MDMA at high doses can result in altered brain structure and drug addiction.
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Yikes. Without diving into any gritty details, I will say I’ve experienced many of the noticeable side effects (the ones involving irritability, mood, memory, and attention).
What does this mean for young people (re: 16-28 year olds) who are taking (or took) lots of MDMA?
First, it means you should probably stop (but only if you value things like pleasure from sex, social interaction, better memory, attention, and the like). This isn’t to sound preachy, but if you’ve read this far, chances are you can relate to my experience somewhat. Not all drugs are bad mmkay, but it’s probably best to go easy on this one.
Can you recover your ability to enjoy life?
Who knows? There’s no way to control for an experiment like that — to see what you’re life would’ve been without MDMA. But if I was to wager a guess, my intuition says it would be just fine, well-balanced, and quite happy.
You/I would’ve figured out the activities and behaviors that naturally lead to happiness, without chemical crutches.
Things like diet, exercise, reading and meditation have a whole list of cognitive benefits, so doing those is a must for anyone, whether their serotonin receptors look like wilted flowers or not. Consider taking an MDMA alternative like caffeine + l-theanine, and/or supplementing your fun with 5-htp.
It also means that to “normalize” our brains again, we may have to go through periods of not enjoying a lot of basic things. We may have to go through a lot of boredom and pain before our brains kick back and start making normal levels of serotonin.
It’s an assumption, but one that’s been working for me so far, and I plan to continue being MDMA-free for the rest of my days.