Ecstasy and MDMA

What it is

Ecstasy is typically the name given to the pill form of the stimulant methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA for short. It is usually sold in pill form and is often cut with other substances such as methamphetamine, caffeine and BZP. The effects of ecstasy are caused by stimulating the secretion of serotonin in the brain, as well as inhibiting the re-uptake of serotonin and dopamine.

Ecstasy is illegal in New Zealand and is scheduled as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

What it does

Ecstasy is often referred as the ‘love drug’ because of the ‘loved up’ feeling a user can experience while on the drug. Other effects a user may experience are:

  • empathy
  • euphoria
  • closeness and openness to others – even complete strangers

Ecstasy increases a person’s energy which may make the user feel like they want to dance or keep moving – ecstasy is often associated with nightclubbing or the dance party scene.

A high from ecstasy can last several hours. It can have a ‘come down’ lasting for days after a person uses ecstasy. A ‘come down’ means a person may feel depressed, have difficulty sleeping, or feel anxious or fatigued. 

Myths and legends

Ecstasy isn’t addictive

Ecstasy users can become psychologically dependent, meaning they find it difficult not to use ecstasy in situations where they are used to having the drug and will experience cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. However there is little evidence to suggest that ecstasy is physically addictive.


Some of the risks of ecstasy use include over-heating, dehydration and water intoxication. This is because ecstasy affects the body’s temperature control, so dancing for long periods of time, in a hot atmosphere, increases the chances of overheating or dehydrating. Ecstasy users often attempt to reduce the risk of overheating and dehydrating by consuming plenty of water. However drinking too much water can cause water intoxication – the water causes the brain to swell.

Another risk with taking ecstasy is not knowing what is in the pill. Ecstasy is often cut with other drugs so there could be negative effects from other ingredients in the pill.

Mixing drugs can also lead to harm because you have no idea how they will react together.

Ecstasy withdrawal

When an ecstasy user becomes psychologically dependent they will find they begin to crave the drug in certain situations or at particular times, and their ecstasy use might start to cause problems for them in their everyday lives. Attempts to stop or reduce their ecstasy use can cause withdrawal symptoms. 

Symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal can be:

  • sleeplessness
  • panic attacks
  • anxiety

Symptoms will vary from person to person. Factors such as physical, mental and emotional health, the use of other drugs and the amount of ecstasy a person has been taking can all influence withdrawal.

Reducing the harm

The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s message is clear: no drug use is the safest drug use. However, we know there will be occasions when people ignore warnings and use drugs in a dangerous manner. To help keep communities safe, here is some information about proven methods of drug harm reduction.

Ecstasy users can use reagent tests to check for the presence of MDMA or adulterants in their pills. The tests analyse a small sliver of the pill or powder and change colour to indicate the presence of MDMA or adulterants. Each test can only confirm the presence of one substance at a time however, and the presence of MDMA confirmed by a reagent test does not mean that other adulterants are not present. People using reagent tests should follow the instructions on the packaging carefully.

Users of ecstasy, especially those who partake in vigorous physical activity such as dancing, run a significant risk of both dehydrating or drinking too much water. It is recommended that people using ecstasy drink about 500mls of water every hour if active, or 250mls if inactive. Alcohol dehydrates the body further and should not be mixed with ecstasy.

Intense and prolonged dancing can cause considerable stress on the cardiovascular system and raise body temperature. It is recommended that people take regular breaks to rest and reduce the need to drink too much water. 

Ecstasy presents risks to both the body and the mind so consumers should stay with friends who can look after them if they begin to feel physically unwell or emotionally upset.

Ecstasy should not be mixed with any other drug, legal or illegal. Consumers should not drive a vehicle while using ecstasy. 

For additional information