Warm environments may make MDMA more harmful

June 9, 2014

Drug addiction comes in many forms, and though most people know it by the names “ecstasy” or “molly,” the drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine is most commonly abbreviated to simply MDMA. Used predominantly by teenagers as a way to enhance parties or all-night raves, MDMA has grown in popularity in recent years due to the significant effects it has on people’s brains. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, anywhere between 10 and 12 million Americans have tried MDMA at least once, and the drug was responsible for over 5,000 emergency room visits in 2001.

Though the negative effects of the drug are well-known throughout the young demographic that continues to consume it, recent research may show that there is more underlying harm to ingesting MDMA than previously thought. According to a study conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, warm temperatures increase the toll that MDMA takes on the body, possibly making the drug fatal in some cases.

Examining MDMA and environment

Most people who take MDMA prefer to do so in places like nightclubs or raves. These locations typically crowd many people into a small area, which can result in high temperatures and little room to catch one’s breath. According to the NIDA study, this can be a dangerous combination.

To test the interaction between external temperature and changes within the body while under the influence of MDMA, the researchers administered moderate doses – about 9 milligrams – of the drug to rats at controlled temperatures. One group was within a sealed environment at room temperature, or about 74 degrees Fahrenheit. The other group was given the drug at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Each population of rats was monitored in isolation and during social interaction with other rats.

Because MDMA raised the rats’ internal temperatures and reduced their ability to remove excess heat from their bodies, the researchers found that in social interaction with other rats in warmer environments, brain temperature significantly increased as well.

Staying safe

Though the dangers of MDMA are real, fewer teens are choosing to use the drug than in previous years. According to a 2012 survey conducted by NIDA for Teens, only 2 percent of eighth graders have tried MDMA, as opposed to 5.2 percent in 2001. Similarly, the number of 10th graders who have used the drug dropped from 8 percent to 5 percent, and 12th graders who recreationally used MDMA fell from 11.7 percent to 7.2 percent.

Teenagers seem to be growing more aware of the dangers surrounding MDMA, but family and friends should remain vigilant if they suspect someone they know of abusing the powerful drug. Aside from long-term mental effects, the NIDA study proves that it can harbor more immediate threats to people’s health.

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