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The Neurobiology of Ecstasy (MDMA)

6: Short-term adverse effects

List of Short-Term Adverse Effects

People who take ecstasy desire its pleasurable or reinforcing effects (just described in the last image). However, few drugs are able to produce desirable effects without also producing side effects. ecstasy is no exception, and there are several side effects or adverse effects that can occur, especially at high doses. However, some people who take only one ecstasy pill may have negative psychological effects such as clouded thinking, agitation, and disturbed behavior. Point to areas of the brain where ecstasy may produce these adverse effects (the neocortex, in yellow and limbic structures, in red and blue). Other adverse effects can occur as well. These include sweating, dry mouth (thirsty), increased heart rate, fatigue, muscle spasms (especially jaw-clenching) and hyperthermia. In the latter case, ecstasy can disrupt the ability of the brain to regulate body temperature. This usually results in hyperthermia, especially when the user is in a hot environment and/or engaging in intense physical activity such as fast dancing at "rave" parties. You can provide some examples to show where ecstasy produces these side effects. For example, the development of thirst and the hyperthermia are due to actions of ecstasy in the hypothalamus (green), which controls drinking behavior and body temperature. You might point out that the effect of ecstasy on the hypothalamus causes multiple effects in the body, and in some cases they are very dangerous (see the next image). The muscle spasms and jaw-clenching are due to ecstasy's action at the motor neurons in the spinal cord (in yellow) (remind the students that a major serotonin pathway descends down the spinal cord). The motor neurons send signals to the muscles to contract.

This page was last updated January 2007

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