Otherwise known as MDMA or Molly, ecstasy is a psychoactive stimulant, meaning it acts both as a hallucinogen to produce mind-altering side effects and as a stimulant to produce euphoria and other physical symptoms. Due to its multiple effects on the body, Molly is used as an illicit drug, especially in clubs, parties, and raves. In one’s mind, it can produce euphoria and a sense of well-being, but what does ecstasy do to your heart?
How Ecstasy Works
Like other illicit drugs, ecstasy affects the brain by increasing the activity of certain neurotransmitters or chemical messengers that brain cells use to communicate with each other. Specifically, ecstasy increases the activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine to create a rush of euphoria and an increase in energy, alertness, and sociability.
Like other amphetamines or stimulants – such as cocaine – Molly stimulates the release of these neurotransmitters while also blocking their reuptake, flooding the brain with these chemicals to produce a high. MDMA stimulates a greater release of serotonin than dopamine and norepinephrine, affecting the individual’s mood, ability to sleep, sensation of pain, and appetite.
While ecstasy’s effects on serotonin are largely responsible for the drug’s mood-elevating side effects in users, high levels of serotonin can also deplete the brain of this important chemical. This may contribute to negative psychological side effects that may be experienced even days after the person’s last use.
What Does Molly Do to Your Heart?
So, what does ecstasy do to your heart in the long run? As a stimulant, ecstasy can affect physiological features like breathing and heart rate. With repeated use, other symptoms may occur, which may pose further risks for long-term heart problems.
Molly’s side effects on the heart include tachycardia (increased heart rate), hypertension (high blood pressure), and hyperthermia (high body temperature), each of which can take a toll on the heart with repeated use.
Tachycardia refers to a heart rate that’s too fast. Generally speaking, a heart rate that’s over 100 beats per minute (BPM) is considered too fast. It’s caused by a disruption in the normal electrical impulses that control the rate at which your heart pumps.
There are different types of tachycardia: atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation, each of which produces its own side effects.
However, regardless of the type of tachycardia a person has, they may experience symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid pulse
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
People who have conditions that damage the heart or heart tissue are at a higher risk of developing tachycardia. In the long run, this condition can cause severe damage to the heart, including issues like blood clots (which can cause a heart attack or stroke), heart failure, frequent fainting spells, and sudden death (most common in people with ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation). This means that a person who frequently uses ecstasy is at high risk of these side effects, as well.
MDMA heart damage can also occur because of hypertension. Hypertension is the formal way to say high blood pressure. Your blood pressure is the pressure of circulating blood against the walls of blood vessels and arteries. Most of this pressure is caused by the pumping of blood by the heart.
Blood pressure is determined by both the amount of blood your heart pumps and the ratio of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps, the narrower your arteries become, and the higher your blood pressure gets.
If you’ve ever taken your blood pressure or seen someone else do so, then you may have noticed that there’s a top number and a bottom number. Blood pressure is read in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The top number is the systolic pressure, which measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps or beats. The bottom number is diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats. Usually, your systolic pressure (top number) should be less than 120, and your diastolic pressure (bottom number) should be less than 80. Anything higher, depending on the specific number, can indicate a major problem.
Because there aren’t any specific symptoms of high blood pressure, people can suffer from it for years without realizing it. However, if left untreated, high blood pressure can have a variety of side effects on the heart, including:
- Damaged and narrowed arteries
- Coronary artery disease
- Enlarged left heart
- Heart failure
- Dysrhythmias (abnormality in your heartbeat)
- Asystole (flatlining, or when electrical impulses of the heart stop)
Not only can MDMA damage your heart because of high blood pressure, but its effects on high blood pressure also increase your risk of aneurysm, transient ischemic attack (TIA), stroke, dementia, mild cognitive impairment, kidney scarring, kidney failure, sexual dysfunction, and more. The sooner you undergo a medically monitored detox and address your ecstasy abuse, the more likely you are to avoid these problems and achieve long-term recovery.
While you may be familiar with the term hypothermia, which is when your body’s temperature drops dangerously, hyperthermia occurs when your body’s temperature climbs too high. Hyperthermia is actually an umbrella term that refers to several conditions caused by an increase in body temperature.
Severe hyperthermia occurs when your body reaches a temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher. In the case of ecstasy use, hyperthermia is often caused by perspiration and dehydration from prolonged dancing and being in crowded places with hot temperatures and poor ventilation.
Because hyperthermia often occurs in Molly users when they’re moving a lot, it can affect the heart by making it beat faster and stronger, otherwise referred to as cardiac output. When this occurs, the person’s risk of heart failure and heart attack increases.
What’s more, ecstasy’s ingredients include a variety of chemicals, which may clog the arteries or produce other side effects, affecting the heart. With illicit drugs, the side effects are often unpredictable and immeasurable.
The use of MDMA and heart problems is something that researchers continue to study. However, because other stimulants or amphetamines (such as methamphetamine and cocaine) also affect the heart similarly, it’s safe to say that ecstasy can cause serious heart damage.
Long-term Molly abuse also increases your risk of addiction, serotonin syndrome, mental illness, and more. Its impact on neurotransmitters in the brain can deplete it of these vital chemicals, inhibiting its ability to function without drugs.
While ecstasy may promise a moment of pleasure, the high is temporary compared to the long-term damage you may suffer. If you or someone you know is abusing ecstasy or other illicit drugs, our Clearbrook rehab in Pennsylvania can help. Not only do we offer ecstasy addiction treatment, but we also offer medical detox and drug therapy options to help patients recover from the physical and mental aspects of drug abuse.