How Ecstasy Affects Your Brain

Ecstasy, which is the street name for MDMA, is a synthetic drug that has stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. This substance is known for its presence in clubs and raves, as it brings an incredible sense of euphoria, high energy, and desirable sensory effects. It is famous for enhancing empathy in those who use it, thus the nickname “the hug drug”.

In the 1980’s ecstasy used to be legal, however, today, it is classified as an illegal Schedule I drug, as it has high potential to be abused.

Currently, researchers are testing and developing evidence to support the theory that ecstasy can treat those with posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is because when someone is under the influence of ecstasy, he or she is more likely to be free-flowing with his or her true emotions and develop a stronger sense of trust with his or her therapist. So far, studies have shown significant improvement in those with PTSD who have utilized ecstasy in their care – 68% of those tested, to be exact.

Despite the potential psychiatric use of ecstasy, it still remains an extremely dangerous drug to abuse. When someone is under the influence, he or she does not just feel euphoric, but he or she can also experience nausea, fever, increased heart rate, tension in jaw or mouth, and fainting. These effects can cost an individual his or her life.

One of the most concerning issues regarding ecstasy use is how it can affect the brain.

How Does Ecstasy Affect Your Brain?

When you consume ecstasy, you are doing more damage to your brain than you might think. The intense euphoric high that you feel is a direct result of how you are altering the way your brain works just by using ecstasy. And, when you continue to abuse this substance, your brain will continue to be altered, which can leave you with serious problems if and when you decide to stop abusing ecstasy.

There are several neurotransmitters in your brain that send signals to your brain cells. Three of those neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, are significantly impacted when you consume ecstasy. Serotonin regulates your mood, pain, appetite, and ability to sleep, while dopamine is responsible for memory, reward, and cognition. Norepinephrine is a stress hormone that controls attentiveness, learning, and emotions. Each one of these neurotransmitters is directly affected when ecstasy is present in the body.


Out of the neurotransmitters that are impacted by the use of ecstasy, serotonin is the most significantly affected. Ecstasy causes a high release of serotonin, which causes the effect of extreme pleasure. Unfortunately, when you continue to abuse ecstasy, the serotonin levels in your brain begin to deplete, which can cause severe psychological problems. For example, up to two weeks post-binge-use of ecstasy, studies have shown that ability of the brain to recycle released serotonin is much less. Additionally, the reduction in serotonin in the brain causes bad memory, depressed mood (including the onset of depression), paranoia, anxiety, regular bouts of confusion, and problems maintaining attention.



Ecstasy releases moderate amounts of dopamine in the brain, which lends itself to the euphoria that one can experience. However, when continuously abused, dopamine receptors can become damaged, making it harder for the brain to not only produce dopamine but also reuse it. As a result, you may experience changes in your cognition and ability to learn. Depending on how much ecstasy you have used, you may have more or less trouble cognitively.

Probably the most significant concern about ecstasy abuse and dopamine is how it is tied to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine helps control physical movement, and when they are damaged, you can become more likely to develop this disease. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease that impacts the nerve cells in the body. This disease itself is not fatal, however, complications that can result because of the symptoms of the disease can be deadly.


Norepinephrine is, as previously mentioned, tied to your alertness and emotion. It is also responsible for your fight-or-flight reaction. When you consume ecstasy, the norepinephrine in your brain increases in activity, which causes the sustained energy that you experience while under the influence. Similar to other neurotransmitters, the norepinephrine release in your brain can become damaged, making it difficult for your brain to release norepinephrine on its own.

When norepinephrine production and reuptake is low, you can experience a number of different consequences. For example, low levels of norepinephrine can lead to the development of conditions including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, both of which are conditions that while manageable, can be difficult to live with. Additionally, you can also experience low blood pressure as a result of the damage you have done to the norepinephrine neurotransmitters in your brain. Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is tied to brain damage if it is not appropriately treated by a medical professional.
Abusing ecstasy in any capacity can cause this type of brain damage, however, it can also lead to a number of other health consequences that can alter the course of your life. These consequences can include cardiovascular complications, liver and kidney damage, and dehydration.

It is also possible for you to overdose on ecstasy, and easily at that. Because this drug is synthetic, there is truly no telling what is in it, making it even more dangerous to abuse. For some, all it takes in one use of this hallucinogen for them to lose their lives.

Get Help

If you are abusing, addicted to, and/or dependent on ecstasy, there is help available. Several people are using this drug and are hooked on it and feel as though there is no way they can stop. If you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone. Regardless of how long you have been abusing ecstasy, there is great hope and promise for you.

Do not wait one more day. Contact us right now to find out how our residential treatment program can help you stop using and live a fulfilled life in recovery.

The Addiction Blog