Ecstasy - a popular party drug

Known as the "party drug" ecstasy or E is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen which is inexpensive and extremely accessible.

Ecstasy is its street name. Its real name is 3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, MDMA, but they call it Adam, Eve, XTC, hug, rolls, lover's speed, disco biscuits - the list is endless.

It was created by two German chemists in 1912 and turned out to be a useful drug. In the 1950s the American army experimented with it to get information from the enemy and a decade later US therapists administered it to encourage troubled couples to see the other's viewpoint.

Ecstasy is illegal worldwide under a United Nations agreement. Even non UN members, like Switzerland, have outlawed it. E is in the same category as heroin and penalties for trafficking and possession worldwide are tough.

It is normally used in tablet form embossed with logos such as apples, butterflies, hearts, clover or zodiac signs. But for many this traditional method of use is very passé. Crystal ecstasy is beginning to appear and snorting, smoking and injecting are among popular alternative methods of getting high on E. The most extreme is "plugging" where you basically stick a tab up your backside to get a more prolonged rush!

Ecstasy Trip

MDMA works by releasing the "happy" serotonin from the brain in large amounts. Related to memory, pleasure, and mood functions it gives users a feeling of calm and empathy. It can also cause the brain to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure. But as the ecstasy wears off the serotonin and dopamine levels plummet resulting in feelings of depression and irritability.

Street ecstasy can contain almost anything. It is generally manufactured in clandestine labs by drug dealers and not chemists. A tab should be pure MDMA but some have been found to contain aspirin, caffeine, ketamine (a type of anaesthetic) and amphetamines.

At some clubs in Holland , users can submit their pills to a basic test to see what's in them. A UK company recently introduced a similar testing kit. This has been criticised by the government for condoning drug use, despite its potential for reducing harm.

Nowadays around 90 per cent of ecstasy is smuggled in from the Netherlands and Belgium through parcel services, ships or commercial airline flights. Recently an increasing number of homegrown labs, set up by dealers, are being discovered.

Because ecstasy is related to amphetamine, it had already been banned in most of Europe and the US before it became popular in the late 80s via the House music scene which had sprung up in America and the Spanish party island of Ibiza . In fact it was in Ibiza that the young drug became a drug for the young.

XTC Becomes Party Drug

It quickly became an integral element of the dance scene as its popularity increased among youngsters hell bent on dancing all night. Likewise when Rave hit arrived on dance floors worldwide, ecstasy replaced alcohol as the most popular party drug.

Rave is still very much an ecstasy culture but the drug's use has now spread way beyond the dance scene. It's no longer just a club drug or a pill popped by youngsters listening to beat music in a field or barn in the middle of nowhere. It's increasingly available in schools and private homes and this has led to wider use among a broader age range. Teenagers and young 20-somethings no longer have the monopoly on E.

Many cases of ecstasy overdose have resulted in the deaths of the victims.

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