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February 2019: synthetic drug Addiction

MDMA (Ecstasy) Addiction

Synthetic drugs are drugs that are manufactured from man-made chemicals instead of natural ingredients. Synthetic drug abuse in the United States has been increasing. 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a common recreational drug also known as Ecstasy or Molly. Ecstasy is the street name for MDMA that comes in a pill form, while Molly is the street name for MDMA in a powder or crystal form. The effects of MDMA, when taken in capsule or tablet form, usually last about three hours although it can take about 45 minutes to feel the effects. 

MDMA is a popular “club drug” used at raves and popular with college aged individuals. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 12% of people ages 18 to 25 had used MDMA in their lifetime, while only 1% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 had. MDMA can be dangerous on its own, but like Cocaine, is rarely sold as a 100% pure drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) between 2009 and 2013 seized 143 substances believed to be Molly while in fact only 13% contained any amount of MDMA. More common is that what someone thinks is MDMA is actually bath salts or another substance entirely. In 2011 the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported 22,498 ER visits related to synthetic cannabinoids, the effect of more than 60 people per day. 

MDMA’s Effect on the Brain

MDMA affects three key neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, by causing a greater release of these chemicals. Serotonin is considered to be a mood stabilizer, meaning it reduces depression and anxiety. The significant and immediate release of extra serotonin depletes the brain’s reserves which results in the adverse affects “come down” after use. Frequent MDMA use may even result in permanently damaging the brain’s serotonin production. A study done on primates found that after MDMA exposure they continued to have reduced serotonergic neurons seven years after cessation. 

Lower serotonin production has several adverse side effects. It is associated with both poor memory and depression. Additional documented effects include: anxiety, confusion, paranoia, and attention deficits. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans have been used to document the affects MDMA has on the brain. MDMA use is associated with a decrease in brain activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with learning and memory. They also show less blood flow to the areas of the brain that are associated with emotional processing. 

Withdrawal Symptoms of MDMA

MDMA carries more psychological effects when it comes to withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal may include: cravings, depression, paranoia, memory problems, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, attention deficits, and agitation. Additionally, MDMA is often cut with substances which can include bath salts, cocaine, or LSD which carry their own side effects for withdrawal. While withdrawal is not usually medically dangerous, the potential for laced substances in combination with the psychological withdrawal and tendencies for relapse, make withdrawal challenging and potentially lethal. If someone has started to get clean and relapses with the same amount of the drug they were used to taking, it can be fatal. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with MDMA addiction, it’s important to get help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that are available.

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Quick Facts on Teen Synthetic Drug Use

In 2018, a reported 3.5% of 12th graders had used K2 or Spice in the past year. (NIDA)

In 2018, a reported 6% of 12th graders had used narcotics other than heroin in their lifetime. (NIDA)

While the use of bath salts decreased in 2018 for 10th and 12th graders, use by 8th graders in the past year increased from 0.5% to 0.9%. (NIDA)

A reported 4.1% of 12th graders had used MDMA in their lifetime in 2018 data. (NIDA)

A staggering 47.8% of 12th graders had reported in 2018 that they had used illicit drugs in their lifetime. (NIDA)

Frequently Asked Questions

What are designer drugs?

Designer drugs, also known as synthetic drugs, is a term to describe manufactured drugs that are designed to circumvent laws around illegal drugs. Given that they are not natural, but manufactured, they designer drugs are often referred to as synthetic drugs. 

Between 2009 and 2014, the DEA identified between 200 and 300 new designers drugs from eight different structural classes, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China. The most common of these drugs are synthetic cannabis (spice & K2) and synthetic cathinones (bath salts). 

What is spice?

Spice and K2 are the more popular versions of synthetic cannabinoids, which get its name for using chemicals similar to those found in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids affect the same brain receptors as THC, the mind altering ingredient in marijuana. It’s difficult to predict the exact effect spice or K2 may have on the body as it’s unregulated and the chemical composition may change.

What are bath salts?

Bath Salts is the name given to synthetic cathinones, a manufactured drug similar to amphetamines such as meth and MDMA. They are usually found as white or brown crystals, but shouldn’t be confused with Epson salts (actual bath salts that people add to their bath to relax). Manufacturers get around health laws by branding the drug not for human consumption, although when abused, they are generally snorted, injected, or swallowed. 

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is incredibly powerful and dangerous. While similar to morphine, it is 50 to 100 times more powerful. A schedule II prescription drug, Fentanyl is classified as having a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.

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