MDMA ("Ecstasy," "Molly") Facts

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), commonly referred to as ecstasy or molly, is a drug that is sold either as a pressed pill taken orally, or as a powder that is snorted or swallowed. MDMA’s effects resemble those of both stimulants and psychedelics. A typical dose of 100 to 125 mg lasts four to six hours.


  • People who use MDMA describe themselves as feeling open, accepting, unafraid and connected to people around them. Typically used in social settings, especially among the rave and dance club cultures, MDMA’s effects are stimulated by visuals, sounds, smells and touch. Some people experience nausea at the outset, but after about forty-five minutes, most people report feelings of relaxation and clarity. MDMA causes dilation of the pupils and, often, sensitivity to light. People using MDMA experience heightened sensations and want to intensify these feelings by dancing, talking and touching.
  • Most of MDMA’s potential harms derive from the setting of its use. Although few adverse effects have been reported, hyperthermia – a dangerously high increase in body temperature – is the most common problem related to ecstasy. Hyperthermic reactions result from physical exertion (such as dancing) in an overheated environment without replenishing fluids, which is why users take breaks and consume fluids like water or Gatorade. Overdoses are extremely rare. 
  • Because MDMA is illegal – and, therefore, unregulated – it is impossible know what a “dose” contains. In fact, many drugs sold as “ecstasy” or “molly” are not MDMA. Besides MDMA, ecstasy pills may contain varying levels of MDA (methylene-dioxyamphetamine), other stimulants such as caffeine, or anesthetics such as Ketamine or dextromethorphan (DXM) – which can significantly amplify potential harms. Testing kits are available to detect if pills contain MDMA or another drug, but cannot determine potency or purity.
  • Research evaluating MDMA’s therapeutic and medical applications has shown promising results. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy combines traditional psychotherapy with the administration of MDMA. Because of MDMA’s unique effect of diminishing fear and enhancing interpersonal trust, it is an ideal adjunct medicine to psychotherapy, and it has been administered to over 500 human subjects in clinical trials without a single serious adverse event. A seminal study published in 2010 found that PTSD patients who received MDMA-assisted psychotherapy reported overwhelming reductions in the severity of their symptoms – reductions which were sustained, on average, for more than three years. Such findings have been replicated by other studies, and additional research is underway in the U.S., Canada, Israel, U.K. and Australia.
  • MDMA was initially popularized by psychotherapists and other mental health practitioners in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After MDMA was placed in Schedule I in 1985, a lawsuit challenging this designation won a favorable ruling from the DEA Administrative Law Judge, who concluded that MDMA had "currently accepted medical use" and "acceptable safety" – yet it remains in Schedule I today. In 2002, the RAVE Act (“Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy”) increased penalties and mandatory minimum sentences.
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