A study performed by the Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, United States, has found that regular use of MDMA can cause long lasting changes to the brain. Researchers examined serotonin levels in women who had never taken MDMA and compared them through PET imaging to women who had taken the drug. It was found that there was damage to the serotonin-2A receptors in the brain of those who had taken the drug.
The Valderbilt study was conducted to determine the toxicity of MDMA as it is being studied as a beneficial therapeutic drug. MDMA therapy is an emerging field of psychotherapy throughout the world. MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, is funding research into the benefits of using MDMA as a tool for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder which may be related to sexual assault, war or violent crimes. Preliminary studies are showing positive results.
MDMA is one chemical that may be present in the street drug, ecstasy. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States estimated that 15.9 million people had taken ecstasy in their lifetime, with nearly 700,000 in the month prior to the survey. Dr Ralph Metnzer dubbed MDMA an empathogen, that is, a drug which encourages empathy. Users of MDMA report feelings of empathetic understanding, profound feelings of ease, calmness, loving and meditative. These effects can be invaluable in psychotherapy where sensitive, negative and painful memories are explored.
Serotonin is critical in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, learning and memory. The system responsible for the production and management of serotonin is known as the serotoninergic system and is considered an important factor in behavioral and physiological functions. Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytrypatamine (5-HT) is found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets and central nervous system. It is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body.
Serotonin is known to play a role in depression. Low serotonin levels are believed to be the reason for depression and associated symptoms of anxiety, apathy, fear, feelings of worthlessness, insomnia and fatigue. A chronic depletion of serotonin can cause a person to develop depression which is considered one of the most prevalent mental health concerns. Up to 1 in 10 American citizens are reported to be taking anti-depressant medications. Antidepressant drugs are developed to release serotonin or stimulate serotonin being released into the body.
MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine is a powerful psychoactive drug that produces feelings of euphoria, intimacy, self confidence and peacefulness. MDMA is a salt that is white crystalline in appearance with a bitter taste and a strong chemical smell. MDMA does not decompose in heat, air or light. It has been found to be a successful drug for psychotherapeutic reasons as it can encourage people to reveal intimate thoughts, fears and concerns. This is incredibly exciting for therapists who may take many years to find the route cause of problems that an individual is facing. Prior to the drug being listed as a schedule 1 drug, MDMA was successfully used by therapists and psychiatrists to treat patients who suffered from a range of conditions including depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
Ecstasy is the street name for the drug that is sold as MDMA. On average, an ecstasy tablet will only contain 10 percent MDMA and some research suggests that less than 15 percent of ecstasy tablets contain MDMA as the sole active ingredient. Ecstasy is known for its ability to invoke euphoria, empathy and love and is used recreationally by people because of these reactions. Many people believe that ecstasy is pure MDMA but this is not the case. In most cases MDMA is just one ingredient that is found in tablets that are sold as ecstasy. Typically, ecstasy is made up of a mixture of MDMA, amphetamines, PCP, ketamine or methamphetamine plus binder ingredients such as chalk and glucose. Ecstasy can range in potency, reactions, size, color and shape. Ecstasy is a popular drug among clubbers and young people who take the drug recreationally to enhance the experience of clubbing and dance music. Ecstasy is usually taken orally though some people inhale, inject or take it in suppository form
Depression is a known symptom of substance abuse. Continue and repeated use of a drug like MDMA will cause people to experience depression, anxiety, insomnia and paranoia. Many people report of a crash when the drug wears off leaving them feeling listless, flat and sad. These effects can last for a number of days and are directly linked to the loss of serotonin that a person has from taking the drug.
Depression caused by drug use occurs because the body lacks in certain chemicals and has been overstimulated by others. If the body is experiencing a chronic loss of natural serotonin, it may be important for a person to be prescribed medication to synthetically increase the serotonin in the body. This is done through the use of antidepressant medications, specifically selective serotonin ruptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. It should be noted however, that some research suggests that in the case of a person with a significant loss of serotonin, these drugs do not work effectively. In these cases, doctors may recommend individuals take steps to naturally increase the levels of serotonin through lifestyle changes, eating serotonin-inducing foods and taking vitamin supplements.