What is MDMA?
MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is an illicit drug that can give users a euphoric rush after swallowing it. It is a central nervous system stimulant which causes high levels of dopamine to be released. Dopamine is a brain chemical associated with pleasure and reward.
MDMA is the presumed main ingredient in an illicit drug called ecstasy. Ecstasy comes as a pill in a variety of colours, often with different stamps or logos on them. These pills might contain some MDMA or none at all. Even 2 pills that look the same might come from different sources and contain different ingredients. MDMA can also come as a powder or crystal.
Not all drugs sold as ecstasy contain MDMA. They may contain other drugs or ‘fillers’, such as household cleaning products, increasing users’ chance of an overdose, bad reaction or poisoning. Drugs sold as ecstasy may also contain a mix of amphetamine, paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), ketamine, NBOMe, synthetic cathinones, or other drugs.
MDMA (ecstasy) has lots of other names, including caps, Eckies, E, XTC, pills, pingers, bikkies, flippers, molly, M&M.
What are the effects of taking MDMA?
MDMA starts to work about 20 minutes after it is taken and the effects usually last for 3 to 4 hours. It can make people feel euphoric, energetic, confident and very affectionate towards others. People who take a lot or who have a strong batch of MDMA may feel like they are floating or have hallucinations.
It can also cause unwanted side effects, such as:
- large pupils
- clenching jaw
- grinding teeth
- heightened senses
- nausea or vomiting
- muscles aches and pains
- higher blood pressure and heartbeat
- reduced appetite
- irrational behaviour
Coming down after taking MDMA leaves users feeling depressed, irritable, anxious and paranoid. They can have trouble sleeping and concentrating. There is also a ‘hangover effect’, where people can experience reduced appetite, disturbed sleep, muscles aches, problems with concentration and depression that can last for several days.
MDMA can affect people differently based on:
- how much they take
- how strong it is
- their size, height and weight
- whether they are used to taking it
- whether they take other drugs at the same time
Find out more about how drugs and alcohol can impact your health, including where to find help and support.
What can go wrong with MDMA?
It is possible to overdose on MDMA. This can cause very high blood pressure, a fast heartbeat and a very high body temperature. Some people have died from a bad reaction to MDMA.
Signs of an overdose of MDMA are:
- out-of-character, irrational behaviour
- irritability, paranoia and aggression
- very high temperature
A serious problem is overheating and becoming dehydrated when using MDMA in hot and humid conditions. People who take MDMA should take regular breaks to cool down, and sip water slowly. Some people have also died by drinking too much water after taking MDMA.
MDMA overdose can lead to a coma or death. If you think someone has overdosed on MDMA, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Ambulance officers don’t have to call the police.
Can MDMA cause long-term problems?
People who use MDMA regularly can experience long term effects, such as reduced ability to control their emotions, problems with memory and concentration, personality changes and severe depression. It is possible to develop a tolerance to MDMA, meaning people need to take more of the drug to achieve the same effects.
People who already have mental health problems should not take MDMA. It could make them feel much worse.
People who use MDMA regularly can develop high blood pressure, damaged nerves, exhaustion and cracked teeth from clenching and grinding.
People with heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, liver problems, high blood pressure, panic attacks or a history of mental illness are at greater risk of physical and psychological harm as a result of taking MDMA.
What if I use other drugs or alcohol together with MDMA?
Combining MDMA with other drugs or medicines can be dangerous. Taking MDMA with alcohol can increase the risk of dehydration. Taking it with ice, speed or cocaine increases the risk of anxiety and puts strain on the body, which can lead to a stroke.
If you take MDMA while you are taking antidepressants, you might become drowsy, clumsy, restless, dizzy and feel like you are drunk. It can also increase the risk of an overdose.
Can I become dependent on MDMA?
Withdrawal symptoms include not sleeping, feeling depressed, anxious, agitated and restless, and having trouble concentrating.
Resources and support
If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage issues as a result of drug use, try healthdirect’s Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: January 2021