How Does Addiction to MDMA Perpetuate a Vicious Cycle?

MDMA is a club drug, often referred to in club vernacular as a party favor. It\’s an illegal, unpredictable, semi-synthetic compound produced from the root bark of the sassafras tree. Native to the eastern part of the United States, the tree can be found growing in many states, including Florida, Massachusetts, Arkansas and Missouri. Distillation of the bark produces a dark brown oil with a characteristic odor of root beer. This oil contains a compound called safrole, and it\’s this safrole that is used in the further synthesis of MDMA, also called molly, ecstasy, dizzle and XTC. Once used as a flavoring for root beer and also as a tea, sassafras oil was discontinued in favor of safer synthetic flavorings many years ago. Safrole is toxic even in small amounts. Sassafras is still used in some natural cosmetics, but its safrole content is also often used for a much darker purpose: To make illicit MDMA. You see, MDMA isn\’t just an innocent, harmless party drug. It can disrupt and derange the brain\’s chemistry so much that clinical depression results. This article will answer the following question: How does addiction to MDMA perpetuate a vicious cycle?

Synthesis of MDMA is dangerous and complex. Sloppy underground chemists rarely produce a pure product. What do they care? They just want to make money. As long as it produces the intended effect and people think it\’s pure MDMA, they will like it and come back for more. Although underground MDMA chemists run the constant risk of both incarceration and incineration, they continue to manufacture the product because the money is just too good.

Teens and MDMA

Youngsters like MDMA a lot, but they fail to understand the effects of the chemical on the brain. Teens with underdeveloped brains are particularly susceptible to MDMA\’s negative effects on brain chemistry. Classified as a stimulant, MDMA is also a potential hallucinogen. It\’s supposed to induce feelings of expansive love and empathy and indeed is often called the love drug. The truth is, MDMA\’s effects are capricious and sinister. Damage to brain cells can occur from even occasional use. The risk of further damage to the brain\’s delicate balance of neurotransmitters increases with continued use. MDMA depletes the brain of critical chemicals it needs to function properly. This doesn\’t just happen with MDMA; all stimulants have this effect.

MDMA and Depression

The use of MDMA ignites a vicious cycle of depression and further MDMA use. The more someone uses MDMA, the more they will deplete their brain\’s supply of serotonin and dopamine. This depletion causes feelings of depression, so the user takes more MDMA to feel better. This may work temporarily, but all the user is really doing is forcing the brain to release more serotonin and dopamine, depleting the supply and depriving brain cells of these crucial neurotransmitters even more. The more the person uses MDMA, the more depressed they will feel, and the more they will return to MDMA to feel better. It\’s an awful vicious cycle that can end in a suicidal, soul-crushing clinical depression.

Serotonin and Dopamine

Serotonin and dopamine are both brain chemicals called neurotransmitters because they are used to allow the brain cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin is particularly associated with mood and low brain levels of it are strongly linked to depression. The brain cells, called neurons, communicate by releasing a neurotransmitter, in this case, serotonin, into the space between the neurons called a synapse. The neuron then almost immediately takes most of the serotonin back again in a process called reuptake. This stops the brain from becoming depleted of serotonin. MDMA interferes with reuptake, forcing the neurons to release serotonin and dopamine over and over again until depletion occurs. This depletion can cause severe depression. Dopamine is the brain\’s feel good, reward chemical. Without it, the individual may experience anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure.

MDMA and the depression and anhedonia it can produce are no joke. It\’s for real. The vicious cycle can only by broken by totally stopping all use of MDMA and any other kind of stimulants, such as amphetamines or their synthetic analogs like methylphenidate. SSRIs, special drugs used to help the brain balance serotonin, may help to alleviate depression while the brain rights itself once again. Over time, it will ramp up dopamine production again, too.

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