|Amytal tablets contain the
amylobarbitone in various strengths. The tablets shown are 30mg.
Actual size of Amytal tablet
|Sodium Amytal capsules contain amylobarbitone
sodium. They come in two strengths (the one shown here is 60mg).
Street names include ‘birds’ and ‘blue heavens’
Actual size of Sodium Amytal capsule
Ecstasy is a street term for a range of drugs that are similar in structure to MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Ecstasy is similar in structure and affect to amphetamines and hallucinogens .
Amphetamines, or ‘speed’, are stimulants that speed up activity in the nervous system. Hallucinogens, such as LSD, typically affect perception and can cause things to be seen or heard that don’t really exist, or are distorted.
Ecstasy is illegal, and its ingredients are often hard to get. Therefore manufacturers may substitute a wide range of substances when making the drug. There is the chance that when you buy ecstasy it will contain little MDMA.
Like other illegally manufactured drugs, such as speed, there are no controls on factors such as the strength and hygiene of the drug. This increases the chances of a person overdosing, being poisoned or experiencing other adverse reactions after taking the drug.
How is it used?
Ecstasy usually comes in the form of small white or yellow- to brown-coloured tablets of various sizes, shapes and designs.
Swallowing ecstasy is the most common way to use it, even though it can taste foul. Ecstasy tablets can also be crushed and snorted. They can be inserted into the anus from where the drug is absorbed – referred to as ‘shafting’ or ‘shelving’. Injecting ecstasy has recently become more popular.
Ecstasy is also known as ‘E’, ‘XTC’, ‘eccy’ and ‘the love drug’.
Ecstasy use in Australia
- The number of people, who have used ecstasy (or other designer drugs) at some stage in their lifetime doubled from 2% of the population in 1995 to 5% in 1998. 1
- The average age at which ecstasy is first used is 22.7 years.1
The effects of any drug (including ecstasy) vary from person to person. It depends on many factors including an individual’s size, weight and health, how much and how the drug is taken and whether the person is used to taking it. It also depends on the environment the drug is taken in and whether other drugs are taken. Because ecstasy is commonly taken prior to, or during, dance or rave parties, the stimulant effects are likely to increase. Hence, the person taking the drug may be more prone to prolonged and vigorous dancing, further exacerbating some of the dangers listed below.
People having any of the following conditions put themselves at greater risk of physical and psychological harm by taking ecstasy: hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, liver problems, epilepsy, a history of mental illness or panic attacks.
Many people have experienced the following effects soon after taking ecstasy:
- increased heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure
- increased confidence
- jaw clenching, teeth grinding
- feelings of wellbeing
- feelings of closeness to others, hence the term ‘love drug’
- loss of appetite
These effects usually begin within 20 minutes of taking the drug and may last up to six hours. Some people have reported some symptoms persisting for 32 hours after using ecstasy.
The effects usually go through three phases:
- coming up: where the effects can be smooth and bumpy, and users may feel a rush
- the plateau: where the user may feel good, happy, relaxed
- coming down: where users may feel physically exhausted, depressed, irritable.
In greater quantities
Higher quantities don’t appear to enhance the desirable effects and may cause:
- convulsions (fits)
- floating sensations
irrational or bizarre behaviour
‘The come down’
After using ecstasy some or all of the following symptoms can occur:
- difficulty concentrating.
These effects usually begin the day after taking the drug and can last for several days.
Overdose from ecstasy can occur. It is usually characterised by very high body temperature and blood pressure, hallucinations and an elevated heartbeat. This is especially dangerous for those who have an existing heart condition, breathing problems and for people with depression or any other psychological disorder.
Although it is difficult to determine the exact number of ecstasy-related deaths that have occurred, it is known that death can result under three distinct circumstances after ecstasy is taken:
The stimulant effect: resulting in heart attack or brain haemorrhage.
Overheating: the combination of taking ecstasy with prolonged and vigorous dancing raises the body temperature to dangerous levels. Because it is often taken in hot, humid venues, such as rave or dance parties, the risk of death by overheating (hyperthermia) is further increased.
Drinking too much: it is important not to drink too much water all at once. Several deaths have occurred from dilutional hyponatremia â€” a condition where a person’s brain swells from the excess fluid intake and induces a coma.
There is little conclusive information about the long-term effects of ecstasy use. Research indicates that few people tend to use ecstasy for a long time. This is possibly due to the severity of undesirable effects, which tend to increase the longer ecstasy use continues, while the pleasurable effects diminish.
Currently a lot of research is being undertaken to investigate the effects of ecstasy on the brain. There is limited evidence suggesting that ecstasy causes damage to some parts of the brain. This damage could lead to depression and anxiety.
Guidelines for safer dancing
It is recommended that those using ecstasy in dance or rave environments sip water regularly rather than all at once. If dancing, drink around 500ml an hour; if inactive drink 250ml an hour. Wearing light, loose clothing and taking regular rests from dancing (15 minutes after every hour of dancing) will help reduce the risk of overheating. Check that the body has cooled down, breathing and heart rate are back to normal and that you are feeling OK.
Warning signs of overheating and dehydrating
The following are important signs to watch out for:
- starting to feel very hot, unwell and confused
- not being able to talk properly
- not being able to urinate or noticing that urine is thick and dark
- not sweating, even when dancing
- heart rate or pulse not slowing down even when resting
- fainting, collapsing or convulsing (having fits).
If these symptoms start then:
- stop dancing
- tell a friend and ask them to stay until you feel better
- ask your friend to get some cold water and sip it slowly
- go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your skin
- go rest in the chill out room or a quiet, cool area
- fan your body or get your friend to do it
- If symptoms persist and the body can’t cool down, go to the first aid area of the venue or get to a hospital immediately.
HIV and hepatitis
Sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment can greatly increase the risk of contracting blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus – the virus that causes AIDS).
Research has shown that due to some effects of ecstasy, certain people are more prone to practise unsafe sex. This increases the chances of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Most drugs cross the placenta and therefore have some effect on the unborn child. There is only limited research on the specific effects of using ecstasy during pregnancy. However, there is potential to harm the child, especially if ecstasy is combined with other drugs. It is possible that miscarriage can result from using ecstasy.
Check with your doctor, or other health professional, if you are taking or planning to take any substances during pregnancy, including prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
Ecstasy and other drugs
The mixing of ecstasy with other drugs can occur:
- when the drug is being manufactured
- when a person takes other drugs in an attempt to enhance the effects, or to help them cope with the undesirable effects of ecstasy.
The consequences of mixing ecstasy with other substances are often unpredictable. It is known that combining ecstasy with amphetamines will increase such effects as heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. Taking ecstasy with other hallucinogens, such as LSD, can result in a person experiencing severe mental disturbances. Taking ecstasy while using some antidepressant medications can result in an extreme adverse reaction.
Overall, the health risks increase when mixing ecstasy with other drugs, including alcohol, especially when large quantities are taken.
Tolerance and dependence
Tolerance to a drug occurs when a person needs larger amounts of a drug to achieve the same effects as smaller amounts. Research suggests that, while some people may develop tolerance to the effects of ecstasy, using larger amounts will increase the severity of undesirable effects, rather than increase the pleasurable effects.
Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body gets used to functioning with the drug present. If a person who is physically dependent on a drug suddenly stops taking it, they will experience withdrawal symptoms because their body has to readjust to functioning without the drug. At present, there is no conclusive evidence to either support or refute whether people can become physically dependent on ecstasy.
Psychological dependence occurs when using a drug becomes more important than other activities in a person’s life. There is evidence that people can become psychologically dependent on ecstasy. It can be very difficult for them to stop or decrease their use.
In Australia, there are a number of drug treatment options. Some aim solely for the user to achieve a drug-free lifestyle. Others recognise abstinence as one option, however, due to individual circumstances, may not be possible in certain situations. The overall aim of these programs is to reduce the harm/risks related to a person’s drug use.
Treatment is more effective if tailored to suit a person’s specific situation and usually involves a combination of methods. The different options include individual counselling, group therapy, medication and supervised/home withdrawal.
Ecstasy and the law
Ecstasy is illegal. Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making or selling ecstasy. Drug laws in Australia distinguish between those who use drugs and those who supply or traffic drugs.
At present in Victoria, penalties range from a $2,000 fine and/or one year imprisonment for cultivation (if the court is satisfied that the offence is not related to trafficking), $3,000 and/or one year’s imprisonment for possession/use (not relating to trafficking) to fines of up to $250,000 and/or 25 years imprisonment for commercial trafficking.
In Victoria, the police and courts have recently introduced a number of new schemes in relation to drug offences. Some of these aim to divert people from the criminal justice system, others involve referring people with a drug problem to treatment programs.
Ecstasy and driving
It is illegal for anyone to drive while under the influence of drugs, including ecstasy. Breaking this law carries penalties including disqualification from driving, heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
Ecstasy is a stimulant drug – it makes the user feel alert, energetic and confident. Over-confidence could increase the chances of an accident because more risks are taken. Blurred vision and hallucinations can also be a problem with driving and taking ecstasy.
Social and other problems
All areas of a person’s life, including family, work, and personal relationships, can be affected by drug use. For example, arguments over drug use can cause family and relationship problems that may lead to break-up. Some effects of ecstasy, such as anxiety, paranoia and irrational behaviour may further exacerbate these problems.
Reducing the risks
Australian drug policy is based on harm minimisation. This is about reducing drug-related harm to both the community and individual drug users.
Harm minimisation strategies range from encouraging ‘non-use’ through to providing the means for drug users to use drugs with less risks.
For more tips on how to reduce the risks of using ecstasy call the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.
Remember: there is no safe level of drug use.
What to do in a crisis
If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using ecstasy, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. Quick responses can save lives.
- Call an ambulance. Dial 000. Don’t delay because you think you or your friend might get into trouble. Ambulance officers are not obliged to involve the police.
- Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives. Find out if anyone at the scene knows mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
- Ensure adequate air by keeping crowds back and opening windows. Loosen tight clothing.
- If the person is unconscious, don’t leave them on their back â€” they could choke. Turn them on their side and into the recovery position. Gently tilt their head back so their tongue does not block the airway.
- If breathing has stopped, give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If there is no pulse, apply CPR.
- Provide the ambulance officers with as much information as you can â€” what drugs were taken, how long ago, and any pre-existing medical conditions.
- Before using ecstasy, make sure you and your friends know what to do in a crisis.