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60seconds Sam: The Ecstasy Factsheet

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Sam Naz Sam Naz | 14:58 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

Ecstasy - it's the drug that hit headlines throughout the 1990s when it was linked to the growing clubbing and rave scene. Latest government figures show that - despite it being the third most common illegal drug in the UK - the number of users is falling. Around 4% of 16-24 year olds now take the drug.

But how much do you know about ecstasy and why are some people still taking it? How Drugs Work: Ecstasy follows the effect of the drug on the human body.

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So, let's look at the facts. What exactly is ecstasy?
Pure ecstasy is a man-made drug called MDMA - it's often nicknamed E and comes in a number of forms:
  • It's commonly sold as tablets or capsules, which are swallowed. The pills vary in size, colour and shape - many have patterns or logos on them.
  • MDMA can also be sold in crystal form.
  • The drug occasionally comes as a white powder which is snorted.
What are the risks?
A big problem to note is that E tablets often don't contain any MDMA (or the similar compounds MDEA, MDA or MBDB). Experts say the pills are frequently made up of other substances such as piperazines, amphetamine or caffeine. These ingredients may have their own side effects, but you won't know what they are until you swallow the pill. Drugscope believes the main risks of ecstasy include:
  • Feelings of anxiety, confusion or paranoia. These are more likely in users who are already feeling unstable and those who take large doses.
  • It affects the body's temperature - increasing the risk of becoming overheated and dehydrated. There have been a number of deaths linked to non-stop dancing in hot clubs after taking ecstasy. While it's important to drink lots of water, users are advised to drink no more than a pint an hour because too much can cause water intoxication.
  • MDMA also increases the heart rate and raises blood pressure.
What are some of the effects?
The drug usually starts to kick in half an hour after it's been taken and some people say they get an "energy buzz" which can last for up to 6 hours.
  • MDMA is a stimulant that increases brain activity. Scientists have found that it causes nerve cells to release the chemical serotonin, which can make people feel sociable and "loved up".
  • Some of the people in How Drugs Work: Ecstasy said it made them more talkative and heightened their surroundings.
  • Users often report feeling flat and tired the day after taking an E - the come down can sometimes last for several days.
You can find out more about ecstasy and its effects on Radio1's The Surgery website.

What about the law?
Ecstasy is an illegal Class A drug in Britain, which means it carries the most serious drug crime penalties, including unlimited fines:
  • Possession - up to a maximum of 7 years in prison.
  • Supply - if you sell it, you face life imprisonment.
There's more information on ecstasy, as well as help and advice, on the following websites: Find out more about the How Drugs Work series:
Journalist Sam Naz presents the 60seconds news bulletins on BBC Three.

Add your comment.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great detail in this documentary but high on bias, do you think we could see a documentary on Alcohol with as much detail? over 5,000 people die on this drug Alcohol every year compared to an avg of 12 on ecstasy not to mention the violence that it causes which we have ALL witnessed in life.

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting documentary tonight but it did not focus enough on the long term side-effects. It is all very well saying it has been used to help treat depression and PTSD but there are numerous cases of people developing long term despression and other associated mental illnesses from excessive use of this drug. My best friend is a neuroscientist and he was clear on the nature of this drug - it is basically a poison and damages the serotonin receptors in the brain (they don't grow back once they are damaged by the massive release of serotonin). Why was this not mentioned?

  • Comment number 4.

    Half a million people take mdma a weekend....Compare that to the amount of drunk people that Fight,die,cause problems for the police or the amount off people that die from nicotine it dosent make sense.Eithr way its nice to see people actully taking the drug and gettig a real insight into what its like witch is very much like that....By the way that girl katie seemed sound as a pound proper on a ravers level respect to that girl! :)

  • Comment number 5.

    O.K Heres a fact- "Scientists are unware of the long term risks" - Scientists were unaware of the long term risks in the early oo's and in the 90's and the 80's as long is long term?

  • Comment number 6.

    I think I may have missed the point of this documentary as I now think it is ok to take drugs!! I have NEVER done drugs in my life and never thought I ever would... however I now have feelings that I would like to try. I'm a healthy 21 year old, who has a fantastic career and great propects but these people look like they have a great time - why can't I have a great time too? Yes it was very sad where you see people who have suffered a died, but what is the percentage of complications compared the volume of people that take the drug and are fine??
    I don't really think TV does itself justice sometimes as raising awareness is one thing but then for it to encourage my mind? I don't know! I am actually sitting here wondering how to get some and who from and when do I take it? In some ways its like playing a racing game, when you drive your car straight after - how many of us speed??? Thanks for the info and now the desire to want to see what it feels like...

  • Comment number 7.

    Of course the violence relating to Alcohol.

  • Comment number 8.

    Very good document, but could be explained more detailed. Users are not afraid of anything, not aware of the threat, they feel just love. I almost died leaning out the front form my 2nd floor window though the ground is so close.
    Also users losing a lot's of weight, and it's very addictive. Last time I had one was 8 years ago, and the feeling is still coming back to me. When I was watching the program, my body was shaking. I think is very dangerous drug.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sammi watch the film human traffic it puts it in to a better perspective........ it isnt a gateway drug ive used mdma for years once maybe evry three months im not a smackhead or anything but its not the type of thing you would do on your own read up on it make sure your safe and sit with your mates and bound just dont get silly with it :)

  • Comment number 10.

    Reply to Ace (comment 4)... It was proved that the serotonin receptors in the brain do grow back. The original experiments on mdma showed the serotonin receptors were indeed damaged (This story made the headlines in the press etc...). A year later they returned to the original subjects in the experiment and found the Serotonin receptors had grown back after all. In fact there brains had made a full recovery after one year of stopping taking the drug. Even those who were heavy users had made a full recovery. The depression issue is still debatable.

    The documentary was good though. There were a couple of annoying points though. The main one being the dangers of taking Ecstasy was not put into perspective. But that would've shown a pro-ecstasy stance, too much for a large part of the public to accept on the BBC I suspect.

    Well done BBC3 though for a step in the right direction! ;o)

  • Comment number 11.

    Dear xoxosammiexoxo, if the tabloid press wanted ammo to criticise the documentary, they would use your comments to their delight I'm sure. Are u telling the truth? I can't tell if u r being sarcastic or not! ;o)

  • Comment number 12.

    Reply to xoxosammiexoxo:
    It's 'beautiful' drug, but think what if you get addictive? Will you keep your present friends, your fantastic career with great propects? You only 21 and life opened door for you. I think I will be different person in different place now. However, to many years I spent on drugs, especially this one, so I can say that. I lost almost 7 years being high rather than doing someting useful with my life. I started from one finished on 7 one after the other. So be careful if you decided to try.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    Incidently, I had a good job back then and still do, Ive got two kids and mortgage all the usual "normal" things and I look back on those days and it makes me smile. I am the person I am because of clubbing, and mdma. It gives you a different perspective on life which is a good thing in my opinion.

  • Comment number 15.

    Good documentary but I thought the interview with the father who lost his son was a bit off topic. As sad as it was the person in question was a seriously troubled and addicted person (as are many alcoholics, smokers, gamblers and shoplifters) who took pretty much any and every drug he could find. I didn't really see how this related specifically to ecstasy and confused the issue by lumping all drugs into one basket which is misleading and not helpful in clearing up a lot of the myths out there or informing people of the actual facts.

  • Comment number 16.

    Such easy targets - cannabis, ecstasy, and next week cocaine - come on the real killers are alcohol and cigarettes. More of the same please with wine beer and tobacco. And the Essex boy voice over is so over. Perhaps a Manc or someone from Wales or Glasgow or Exeter. Who commissioned this program - David Cameron ?? George Osbourne ?

  • Comment number 17.

    Hello. I was wondering if anyone could tell me or anyone knows where to find out what the song is called that is played between 5.22 and 5.40 on the programme? Thanks for your help. Cheerio!!

  • Comment number 18.

    I only caught the second half of the programme, which was interesting, but I was very concerned about a statement to the effect that hyponatraemia (low blood salt/sodium) is due to taking in and/or retaining too much fluid.

    This is only one possible cause, and it is crucial that a person's hydration status is properly assessed before any remedial action is taken, as I know to my own cost. I don't take ecstasy, but suffered two life-threatening attacks of hyponatraemia in the past few years, for which the cause has never been diagnosed due to doctors' irrational insistence that I was over-hydrated without any evidence that this was the case, and their ignoring evidence to the contrary.

    Hyponatraemia can also be caused by loss of salt/sodium in the urine, for example, and one thing that can cause this is high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia). Acute hyperglycaemia can occur as a result of infection and other severe stresses.

    One good indicator of whether someone is over-hydrated or dehydrated is a commonly-measured blood protein - albumin. If it is high, the person is probably dehydrated; if it is low, the person is probably over-hydrated.

    If any doctors are reading this and were not aware of it, PLEASE look it up and tell your colleagues. People's lives could depend on it.

  • Comment number 19.

    As with some other contributors I agree that the comparisons with alcohol speak for themselves (re: aggression; death rates; and other drains on public services, etc) but I also query the long term effects of even limited ecstasy use.

    Does the fact that people fell more confident to express themselves openly and empathetically when under the influence mean that confidence levels are reduced when not using ecstacy? Is this only prevalent in individuals who'se nature is to be reserved/introverted ?

    Reports of long term depression amongst former users are not uncommon but this could be more to do with their personal metabolism and nature than using the drug. The education users desire would be helped if we could understand this more because at the age/time people use the drug the most they are largely unconcerned about such effects as they prioritise the short term 'connection' with fellow users.

  • Comment number 20.

    After watching the last 2 programmes, I thought these give a pretty fair view of all aspects of these two drugs, I used to use both these drugs (among some others)when I was younger (from i was about 16 untill i was about 20/21).. I felt that I could connect with what was being said on the programmes, I had some good times on the drugs I took, which I took when I was with friends at partys or in clubs and feel that this overall has given me a better outlook on life, although I have also felt the bad side to the drugs, where depression was kicking in big time, and I felt my head starting to go, comedowns where getting worse.

    It got to the point where the bad times where outweighing the good, and you know its time to knock it on the head.

    I don't touch them anymore, I have however been tempted to try some of these legal powders/crystals that are on the market at the minute such as 2-AI, MDAI, MDAT, 4-MEO-PCP, 5-IAI, DXM, E3 etc.. although I haven't really found much in the way of user reports or detailed effects of these, so I am wary of what bad effects they may cause.

    Maybe a programme looking into these 'legal highs' which is growing year by year due to varying qualitys of street drugs, would be useful and informative to those of us who haven't made an informed choice on these drugs.

  • Comment number 21.

    Please Please Please can anybody tell me what or who the song was by at the end of this programme?

  • Comment number 22.

    hey mormo !!

    Donna Summer - I Feel Love

    and no I don't know the song at the end

  • Comment number 23.

    I work in a prison as part of the drug work (CARAT) team.
    We have obviously discussed the 2 episodes in the office and would like to get copies of the series to show in group work sessions. Especially the Cannabis one as this is the main drug of choice within our prison. My manager did contact the BBC and they just said to view it online but we would like to keep it for longer then the few weeks it will be on here for. How would I go about getting copies that we could use legally in the prison. Any advice would be great.

  • Comment number 24.

    hello i would just like to say that i find it amazing that people continue to make shows about the main drugs i circulation yet seem to avoid other drugs a drug that i feel that you should be talking about is ketamine with it being used by the youth more and more this is a class c drug because the law have no idea how bad it atchally is on the talk to frank website it says that it is only a psychologically adiction were as i belive it is much more than that i know a lot and i mean a lot off ketamine adicts who have sufferd what can only be discribed as withdrawral simptoms from it. i also belive it is the worst drug to hit the market since crack cocaine why talk about cannabis and mdma when they have been on the market long enough for people to understand them and be carfull while taking them. but ketamine people dont know and before you know it you are taking a seditive that makes you feel like your dead everyday off your life a lot of people have died from this drug it is terrible i go to raves and when i started going ketamine was a next day drug you take your extacy acid cocaine whatever you want to take during the night then ten in the morning you start on the k to help with the comedowns now i go partying and some partys everybodys on it and nobodys dancing because they have no motervation this is the drug i belive you should be warning people about because it has already lead people down a very dark path and will contiue to do so because no newspaper tv programe or any other is really giving the proper facts on this drug thankyou for your time if you have atchally read this because this is a series eperdemic thankyou

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi BBC Team im a 26 year old living in bristol and iv been watching all of you how drugs work related programs and there seems to be a massive part in this programming that is missing. I know that a massive part of this countries youth needs to be informed, the drug culture that im talking of affects over half of all my friends including myself and has done now for over 8 years im sure you may well be aware of this but please can you contact me asap so i can make you aware of whats goin on thats if your not already
    kind regards x

  • Comment number 26.

    just read the second to last comment that g has written and this is what im talking about and this needs to be addressed and soon it is an epidemic even down to the nhs referring to the problems that long term use can cause as "Bristol bladder" even stretching to cases of teens and people in there early 20s haveing there bladders removed and catheters put in. iv seen it many times and have only narrowly avoided it my self !
    iv used most drugs recreationaly bar smack and crystal meth etc and nothing has affected me or my friends as much as ketamine id say a good 30 plus percent of todays drug culture has an uncotrolable addiction to this that massivley affects there lives every single day
    please make people aware and donot hesitate to contact me as i have plenty more info an all of this !

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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