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Monday, January 18, 2010

MDMA – Pt 2, Neuroscience

Disclaimer: Information presented is not meant to replace the advice of a physician. Information presented on this website are for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician with any questions or concerns relating to your health.

MDMA’s full name is Methylenedioxymethamphetamine. The MA in MDMA stands for methamphetamine; however, the neurological variances between MDMA and methamphetamine are relatively large. MDMA is derived from an oil of the sassafras plant called safrole. These oils in the plant are so concentrated that even a relatively small amount can be synthesized to create a large quantity of doses, numbering in the hundreds, or even thousands.

To understand how ecstasy works you need to understand how a neurotransmitter such as serotonin is released. Think of a neuron in your brain like a television, with thousands of channels. The television is plugged into the wall and constantly receiving an electrical current. This is much like how your brain is constantly processing the environment around you through your senses. When the electrical wave leaves the wall, it travels down the wire to the television where you can see one of a thousand channels. Much like how the electrical wave travels from your eyes, down the axon of a neuron to the axon terminal where neurotransmitters are released creating thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of possible emotional and thought states.

Once this wave hits the terminal, dependant on the voltage, a specific neurotransmitter vesicle (think of a beanbag with neurotransmitter beans) is signaled to be released (spilling the beans), putting the neurotransmitters in the space between neurons called a synapse. Just like how changing the channel on a television changes what there is to see, changing the neurotransmitter release command changes what we feel and think. Once a neurotransmitter is released, it travels across a tiny gap, called a synaptic gap, to the receiving dendrite from another neuron. For the sake of this analogy, it is much like information traveling from the television, across the room, to the viewer. Extra neurotransmitters not received by the receptors of the receiving dendrite and are recycled back into the axon through a serotonin transporter, or SERT, which terminates the function of the released neurotransmitter in a process called reuptake.

What happens when ecstasy is ingested is that it targets the SERTs, and does not allow them to reuptake to terminate the serotonin release thereby increasing the activity time of the released serotonin. Also, through a process calls phosphorylation the SERT reverses its function and releases serotonin into the host neuron. This is typical of all releasing agent drugs such as amphetamines. Basically it turns of your neural recycling system for unnecessary neurotransmitters, and floods your brain with serotonin forcing its metabolism. Ecstasy also performs this exact function for dopamine and norepinephrine. Technically MDMA can be classified as a serotonin-dopamine-norepinephrine releasing agent and serotonin-dopamine-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.

Serotonin is a mood, sleep and appetite regulator among other things. Typical users experience a loss of appetite, lack of a desire to sleep, and a positive mood. Ecstasy’s entactogenic (a drug that induces feelings of empathy) behavior is believed to be related to the shift of neuro-modulation relating to serotonin, which occurs upon metabolization of MDMA and triggers the release of oxytocin. A chemical naturally secreted after orgasm, hugging, childbirth or female nipple stimulation. Some believe this hormone exists as the mechanism for promoting trust universally among humans, and may be the foundation for organized society altogether.

Norepinephrine, or noradrenaline is a stress hormone and release of which stimulates increased heart rate, more circulation to the limbs, dumps glucose (energy) into the body and increases blood pressure, which may explain the desire to move or dance in the user as well as headaches. Because of the increased circulation, and typical hot, crowded environment of the typical user, and because MDMA hinders urination, there is an increased risk of hyperthermia, or an increased body temperature due to the inability of the body to regulate its own healthy temperature homeostasis because of the flooding of regulating neurotransmitters. Your body literally loses the ability to control its own temperature while using MDMA. The heating up of important bodily organs, and brain can result in organ failure, brain damage and in extreme cases, death. Mixing MDMA with diuretics such as alcohol or caffeine can further exacerbate the condition.

Dopamine has several neurological functions. Relating to MDMA, it changes the way in which our brain controls our movements. When the dopamine neurons die, you lose the ability to perform controlled, smooth movements in a condition called Parkinson’s disease. It is also instrumental in the reward system of the brain promoting the repetition of certain rewarding tasks. Is it naturally released when experiencing sex or food, and unnaturally released with certain drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and nicotine and with related stimuli.

The typical user may describe the experience of the dose as being euphoric and peaceful, a sense of connectedness with the self and the world. High levels of intimacy and empathy with others are also experienced. MDMA is a sensory enhancing drug and subsequently users may feel the need to touch or be touched to increase physical sensations, massaging is a very common practice among users. “Light-shows”, or watching an individual dancing with bright lights may be another typical occurrence for the user as visual stimulation is also very pleasurable. Scent is also stimulated and scented products such as mentholated lozenges or cigarettes are also readily used.

MDMA also makes you thirsty, and the bodily warmth experienced drives the user to drink, excessive drinking can cause hyponatremia, or the dilution of the blood and flooding of the users body with liquid faster than it can be expelled. This can create confusion in the user. A typical symptom of this drug is vomiting, and because vomiting elicits the release of vasopressin, a water retention hormone, it creates a dangerous feedback loop where the user feels sick and, vomits, vasopressin is released to hold in liquid, the user drinks more to hydrate, and creates a vicious cycle of chemical reactions which may increase the symptoms from headache and thirst to convulsions and even coma, especially if the user is unaware.

Another side effect is jaw clenching and teeth grinding, extended use can cause jaw fatigue as well as wear on the teeth.

MDMA reaches its highest blood concentration between an hour and a half and three hours after ingestion. A typical 100 mg dose lasts for up to 8 hours, however there still may be existing levels of MDMA within the user’s body. After the completion of the entactogenic experience or “roll”, 65% of the MDMA is excreted through urination while 7% is metabolized into MDA, a psychedelic stimulant used in various transcendence practices and may cause visual hallucinations.

After effects may consist of the user experiencing a low mood later in the week due to a lack of available mood regulating neurotransmitters as well as a sense of fatigue. This comes with a higher risk to those being treated for depression as the after effects may exacerbate the condition. Agitation, impaired focus, motivation and concentration may all also be present. Serotonin poisoning or Serotonin syndrome is a minimal risk, but much higher if the user is using a MAOI antidepressant or if the user mixing various serotonergic drugs. Mixing different drugs is highly warned against due to the possibly very dangerous consequences.

Chronic use of Neurotransmitter releasing agents such as MDMA, has a consequence of over stimulating the neurons to become dependent on the constant level of neurotransmitters. Once a Neurotransmitter is accepted by the related neuron it is communicating with, neural growth factor strengthens the connections between the two neurons; and the receiving neuron adapts to the new current chemical balance. The sending neurons end up sending more neurotransmitters into the receiver than is healthy, and the chronic user may find themselves poisoning themselves with their own brain. One such consequence is serotonin syndrome, where the nerve cells in the brain produce excess amounts of serotonin and can ultimately result in several behavioral abnormalities and even death.

The brain communicates through a variance in different chemical level concentrations, and any drug that changes the normal functioning of the brain should be met with a high degree of caution. Ecstasy is almost universally illegal, It is my opinion that the and the consumption of which should include concern of potential health hazards and legal consequences should be analyzed prior to use, and if one makes an educated decision to use MDMA for any purpose to take special notice of potential hazards one may encounter.

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