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Biology 202, Spring 2005
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Ecstasy, Brain, and Behavior


Student Contributor

Everybody wants to have a good time. The problem with this is that sometimes 'having too good of a time' can be dangerous. The popular hallucinogenic and amphetamine drug Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, and Adam, has become all the rage. Upon coming to college I had of course heard of ecstasy in reference to New York City clubbers and young Hollywood stars, but it was not until the first couple of months into school when I realized just how mainstream this club drug is.

It seems like Ecstasy is everywhere. People are either preparing for it's use by way of scheduling activities that will allow them to exert their newly gained energy, or they are desperately trying to get their hands on it for the upcoming weekend. At first sight it makes sense, who wouldn't want an energy booster for a night on the town? However, Ecstasy can be fatal. Giving into temptation just once could change things forever.

Recreational use of Ecstasy is dangerous because it is not regulated by the FDA or subject to quality control, and no one knows what amount is considered a safe dosage 1)University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. So if the level of danger is relatively high, then is the state of euphoria caused by the party drug of choice worth it? This question is obviously debatable as everyone is different, but without having seen the effects of Ecstasy on the brain, we would not be able to see the relationship between the brain and behavior.

Ecstasy is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Upon ingestion, Ecstasy is extracted by the liver and transmitted through the blood vessel wall to the brain. Since Ecstasy is mostly in its nonpolar form in the bloodstream, it can reach the brain within 15 minutes 2)National Institute on Drug Abuse. This quick flow to the brain aids in the rapid effects felt by the brain. When an Ecstasy tablet reaches the brain, the neocortex as well as the structures that comprise the limbic system are all affected. The effect of Ecstasy on these structures of the brain lead to changes in memory, perceptions, thinking, mood, emotions, and the production of anxiety 2)National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Ecstasy has had widespread recreational use because of the influence of those who have already tried the drug. The state of euphoria which is experienced by Ecstasy users involves the neurotransmitter serotonin. The use of Ecstasy causes serotonin neurons to release a large amount of serotonin which are stored in the axon terminals. The attachment of a serotonin molecule to a receptor causes the chemical information to be sent down the dendrite to the cell body of a neuron 3)A page for the promotion of health and safety within the rave and nightclub community. Research concludes that mood is influenced in part by the amount of serotonin receptor binding 3)A page for the promotion of health and safety within the rave and nightclub community. This might lead one to believe that Ecstasy provides evidence to confirm that Brain=Behavior.

An increase in serotonin levels causes the high felt by Ecstasy, but once the serotonin molecule detaches from the receptor, Ecstasy begins to deplete the serotonin levels in the brain which once deficient, cause depression 4)A page promoting youth wellness. Brain imaging research in humans has shown that Ecstasy may affect neurons that rely on the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons 2)National Institute on Drug Abuse. The depletion of the normal serotonin supply causes physical damage to the neurons which are used to secrete serotonin. This damage can cause the serotonin nervous system to be 'fried' or 'burned down', leading to potential long lasting depression. A depleting or low supply of serotonin will directly affect the regulation of mood, sleep, sensitivity, and aggression.

The effect of Ecstasy on the brain illustrates that Brain=Behavior. If individuals are using Ecstasy tablets in order to increase empathy, happiness, sociableness, sensation of touch, etc.,it can therefore be seen that the brain is essentially equated to behavior. Ecstasy is used in order to create these feelings and behaviors which might otherwise be nonexistent. The argument that Brain=Behavior is controversial, but it seems clear that if individuals are ingesting a tablet in order to gear themselves towards feeling and acting in a certain way, the direct relationship between Brain and Behavior exists. Whether or not the use of this drug is the most adequate way to demonstrate this relationship is altogether another question, but it seems as though that the desire to experience euphoria can be all too tempting.

The chemical name of Ecstasy is 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Synthesized in clandestine laboratories by altering the structure of the amphetamine molecule, the probability that an Ecstasy tablet will contain other drugs is high 2)National Institute on Drug Abuse. Such drugs that are likely to find their way in an Ecstasy tablet are ephedrine and caffeine. Because the purity question is at play, users must be extra cautious of what it is that they are putting into their body. In addition, the danger of Ecstasy is heightened by other factors. For instance, Ecstasy causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate which makes it increasingly dangerous for individuals with heart conditions or high blood pressure 4)A page promoting youth wellness. Whether taking Ecstasy is worth it is up to the person. There are a variety of things that should be considered before making the decision. After all, making oneself happy is not that easy.


WWW Sources

1.) http://www.uams.edu/today/2002/032102/club.htm; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
2.) http://www.drugabuse.gov/pubs/teaching/teaching4/Teaching2.html; National Institute on Drug Abuse
3.) http://www.dancesafe.org/slideshow/slide11.html; A page for the promotion of health and safety within the rave and nightclub community
4.) http://www.ayn.ca/health/en/addictions/addiction_ecstacy.asp; A page promoting youth wellness


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