Ecstasy use down among America's youth

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA's) just-released 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports the number of current ecstasy users decreased between 2002 and 2003, from 676,000 (0.3 percent) to 470,000 (0.2 percent).

This news comes after 10 years of increasing popularity for the drug among America's youth through all-night dance parties called "raves." Its use spread into the mainstream because of the misconception that it is a harmless aid to self-awareness and fun to use during social events. Some even see it as safe in comparison to other illicit drugs.

Ecstasy is especially appealing to youth because it combines an energizing effect with feelings of belonging and euphoria, and a heightened sense of touch, smell, sight, and sound. Users often feel more affectionate, warm, and loving. But after the immediate effects wear off, most teens feel hung-over, depressed, and slow. Those who regularly use ecstasy on weekends may even experience a mid-week depression.

Ecstasy—chemically known as 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)—causes immediate dangers to the body and, over time, can lead to drug dependence and a weakened memory. The drug works by boosting chemicals in the brain responsible for mood, muscle control, and feelings of well-being. After the boost, these chemicals dip beyond normal levels, leaving the user feeling depressed and affecting many other bodily functions. For instance, ecstasy reduces the body's ability to regulate hunger, temperature, and water content. In the midst of a hot, crowded dance club, someone using ecstasy can overheat and become dehydrated and exhausted.

Ecstasy users also face unknowingly being introduced to other drugs since ecstasy sometimes is mixed with hallucinogens such as PCP and LSD and the stimulant methamphetamine. These mixtures intensify ecstasy's effects—and its dangers.

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