Updated 25 January 2016

Everything you ever wondered about ecstacy

Learn more about ecstasy - what it looks like, how it is used and how it affects you.


Appearance and use

Ecstasy tablets are generally used in pill form. They are usually small and white in colour, but are also found in brown and yellow, depending on the source. They can also be pulverized and snorted or injected, but this is reasonably uncommon in South Africa. Sometimes they come in powder or tablet form, but this is unusual in South Africa.

Ecstasy was developed and patented in 1914 in Germany by the Merck company and used as an appetite suppressant. It was used in the 1970s to help psychiatric patients talk about their feelings, but this practice was ceased in 1986 when it was found that it caused brain damage in animals.

Ecstacy in South Africa

Ecstasy is known by a number of names on the street including e, Swallows, White Doves, Yellow Callies, X, XTC, Love Doves, etc.

Ecstacy has become a very widely used drug of choice among young people in South Africa. It became part of the rave culture in the UK and spread to South Africa in the 1980s. It is commonly available at clubs and parties and is not very expensive. It retails at around R60 per tablet and for most people one tablet is enough to create the desired effect. It is generally deemed as harmless by young people, but it does have its dangers.

Use seems to taper off in the mid-twenties as former users enter the formal job market and have difficulty performing their allotted tasks at work after having danced the night away.

It is only really in the last decade that its use has become widespread. It is a stimulant that can have a mild hallucinogenic effect.

It is generally regarded by users as being reasonably safe and the drug carries minimal immediate health risk, according to Prof Deon Knobel, forensic pathologist at the University of Cape Town. Its long term effects are uncertain and the drug is currently being subjected to worldwide tests.

Methylenedioxymethamphetamines (MDMA)is a stimulant related to the drugs mescaline and amphetamine.

Effects of ecstacy
Medically speaking, four things can happen when Ecstasy tablets are taken:

  • Firstly, the MDMA can cause the release of the neurotransmitter, serotonin;
  • MDMA can also block the re-uptake of serotonin,
  • as well as deplete the amount of serotonin in the brain.
  • It can also cause an decrease in the amount of the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Several studies have been conducted to test the effects of Ecstasy use. Loss of memory and depression appear to be possible long term effects.

About half an hour after swallowing an Ecstasy tablet, the user will experience an euphoric and exhilarated state, which can last two to four hours, according to Prof Knobel. The user’s emotional and sensory experiences will be heightened and they will feel loving, sensual and mystic. Their inhibitions will be lowered and their energy levels will be enhanced – hence the ability to dance the night away.

Ecstacy use increases the body temperature and blood pressure. It leads to increased perspiration and short term dehydration.

Symptoms of excessive use
Excessive use would be anything more than one tablet, according to Prof Knobel.

Though few people have died from Ecstasy overdose, its use in conjunction with other drugs can be very dangerous.

Ecstasy use over an extended period changes the structure of the brain and prunes the serotonin receptors. It is thought that it might, in the long run, inhibit the body’s ability to produce serotonin, the feel-good hormone produced in the brain.

There have been cases of people dying of heat stroke, heart failure, stroke, blood clotting and liver damage after using Ecstasy, but effects of use differ vastly from one individual to another, says Prof Knobel.

The psychological effects of heavy use have been known to include fits of depression, anxiety attacks and feelings of intense paranoia.


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