Ecstasy - common misconceptions
Is ecstasy a killer drug?
In the majority of cases people don't die directly from the toxic effects of ecstasy and the reason such deaths do occur is not yet fully known. What we do know is that 'ecstasy-related' deaths tend to fall into three categories:
- excessive amounts of fluid,
- heart failure.
In terms of the risks of ecstasy use, most of the media coverage has, unsurprisingly, been given to fatalities.
The concentration on fatalities is, however, problematic since the non-fatal risks of ecstasy use have seemingly received less media exposure in the UK. MDMA may be neurotoxic and its use may involve the risk of brain damage. However, the evidence to date is inconclusive and thorough studies of humans are needed before a definitive neurotoxicity claim can be made.
Is ecstasy cut with dangerous substances?
Many people, including many ecstasy users themselves, believe that the drug is 'cut' with various things - from rat poison and ground glass to heroin. There is however, a lack of evidence to support these beliefs. These beliefs persist for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is commonly believed that illicit drugs in general are mixed in such a way. Secondly, people involved in the manufacture and supply of drugs are believed to be capable of just about anything and so it seems reasonable to believe that they would do things like this.
There is a great deal of forensic evidence available (through the testing of seized and volunteered ecstasy tablets) and substances such as ground glass and rat poison have not been found. Heroin in particular has never been found in any ecstasy tablets. This belief is based on one of the many myths surrounding how people get addicted and the role and practices of drug 'pushers'.
What is sold as ecstasy?
The myth of dangerous adulteration has been addressed elsewhere. There is, however, a closely related issue of whether what is sold as ecstasy is actually MDMA or not. The amount of MDMA in one tablet may vary. Some tablets sold as ecstasy may contain no MDMA at all. Many ecstasy tablets also contain other drugs, such as ketamine, amphetamine, caffeine, and ephedrine. Other tablets contain substances that are chemically related to ecstasy such as MDA or MDEA.
The varying content of tablets sold as ecstasy obviously has implications for the relevance of much neurological research carried out on ecstasy users. This research has generally not determined the content of the tablets sold as ecstasy and consumed over the user's lifetime. In other words, researchers may mistakenly attribute certain drug effects to ecstasy, rather than other drugs or a combination of various substances.
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