Designer Drugs, Part 1




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THE ABC’s of X K & G:

Series on Gay Designer Drugs

The drug 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), most fondly known as ecstasy, XTC, X, or Adam, is one of many designer drugs who's use runs rampant in the gay community. Ecstasy is a type of amphetamine (speed) and shares properties of both amphetamines and hallucinogens. The increasing use of ecstasy is related to an undeserved reputation for safety, affordability, and the effects of benevolence and emotional bonding that ensues. Touted as a drug that enhances sexual libido, more accurate accounts describe sensations of "loving everything and everyone around you", and enhancing empathy, introspection, and communication. The drug begins to take effect between 30 and 60 minutes after taking it. Peak effects occur at 90 minutes, and may last for 8 hours or more. The amphetamine portion of the drug causes the user to stay awake, paving the way for an all night "rave" of high energy dancing and partying that often accompanies the use of this and other designer drugs.

Use of ecstasy can result in deleterious side effects, addiction/dependency, and death. Common adverse effects of the drug include sweating, rapid and irregular heartbeats, fatigue, muscle aches, involuntary muscle contraction such as jaw-clenching, and insomnia. Social ills may result such as work absenteeism, difficulty concentrating, legal woes, and antisocial behavior. Furthermore, the use of ecstasy often leads to the use of other dangerous illegal drugs. More concerning effects of the drug include: serious or even fatal heart conditions, dangerously high blood pressure, bleeding problems, severe dehydration and hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), acute failure of the kidney, liver, cardiac and nervous systems, electrolyte problems, coma, and potentially fatal break down of muscles (rhabdomyolysis).

Most deaths are caused dehydration and hyperthermia, due to a direct toxic effect of the drug, which is worsened by strenuous physical activity like dancing. Unlike the other potential causes of death, dehydration is well known among most ecstasy users. Alcohol can worsen this. Most users know to avoid alcohol and drink lots of water during the hours of partying. Thus, the bottle of trendy spring water may be likened to a sequined studded scarlet letter, which to those "in the know", herald the bearer of the bottle as one who may be dabbling in the designer drug. Water consumption can prevent dehydration and help to regulate the body temperature similar to the treatment for heat stroke or heat exhaustion. However, excessive water intake following the use of ecstasy has also been reported to cause death due to brain swelling and critically low sodium levels. When the body looses fluid through profuse sweating, vomiting and diarrhea (which are all common side effects of the drug) there is also a loss of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Ingestion of excess water in this case may lead to critically low levels of these electrolytes in the body, leading to seizures, brain swelling, coma, and even death. Death is more often due to dehydration and hyperthermia than to low sodium or brain swelling. Therefore those who choose to use the drug should drink plenty of water, especially if high-energy activity accompanies the event such as dancing and sex, but should avoid excessive water consumption.

As the prevalence of use of ecstasy escalates, its reputation for being a safe recreational drug is unfounded. Admission rates to treatment centers for addiction to ecstasy and other designer drugs is on the rise. Death has unequivocally resulted from its use. In the United Kingdom, death rates related to the complications of ecstasy have exceeded the death rates from traffic accidents in persons age 15-24. Awareness and education on this subject is particularly crucial to the gay community, a population that is seemingly plagued by drug use.

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