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  -- Agony and Ecstasy

Agony and Ecstasy Revisited
By Judy Shepps Battle

"E" is back in the news again -- that's Ecstasy, the feel-good party drug. It's also known in the youthful drug culture as "Blue Kisses," the "Hug Drug," the "Love Pill" or simply, "X."

A recent article in the Philadelphia Daily News lauded the interception by the feds of two shipments of 230,000 methamphetamine-laced Ecstasy pills headed for the greater Philadelphia area.


Although this represents a significant number of Ecstasy "trips" that will not be taken by area youth, it is also a wakeup call that too many kids are still enamored of mind altering drugs.  

What is the lure of Ecstasy? And what steps can be taken to reduce the potential harm that can occur through casual experimentation with this drug?

Ecstasy  methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA -- is a synthetic psychoactive drug with amphetamine-like ("speed") and hallucinogenic properties.

"E" was first invented in 1912 and used primarily as an appetite suppressant. It didn't come into the popular culture until the 1970s, when young people started using it recreationally. It returned to favor in the 1990s with the rise of the club drug culture, and all-night dances or "raves."

But Ecstasy is more than an energizing force for all-night partying. It also decreases anxiety and produces a calming effect -- understandably appealing to teens immersed in the emotional and hormonal angst of adolescence.

About 30 minutes after ingestion, the person feels peaceful, empathetic and energetic. Unlike drugs (such as marijuana, LSD, or cocaine) that produce confused states, Ecstasy produces clarity. In contrast to normal social isolation, a user often talks endlessly and shares inner feelings with complete strangers.

For the life of the drug dose, utopia is created -- a microcosm of world peace, safety, and love.

Many Ecstasy users say the insights revealed in their first "E" experience motivated them to change their lives and pursue inner dreams. They point to a feeling of oneness with people and nature that is hypnotic.

Unfortunately, as with cocaine, the intensity, insight, and power of the first "E" high is rarely repeated. In addition, the "E" high is often followed by depression and difficulty with memory recall that may last up to a week.

Research studies suggest that repeated use of Ecstasy leads to problems with sleep, mood, and anxiety, as well as increased impulsivity, and attention and/or memory problems. Some investigators report that these effects may continue up to two years after the drug is stopped.

But few teens are future-oriented enough to seriously consider long-term effects of drug misuse, and many simply dismiss Ecstasy's "bad press" as more evidence of a Generation Gap.

If we are to help our kids successfully navigate adolescence we must do more than issue dire warnings about drugs or admonish them against disobedience. We must offer accurate information, act as role models, and communicate with empathy.

Many school health classes provide basic information about Ecstasy, and  lets hope -- suggest abstinence, along with offering harm-reducing information for those who choose to experiment.

Students should be aware, for example, that "E" users at a rave are at risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration and must stay hydrated with water. They should realize that street-manufactured "E" can vary in quality, contain harmful ingredients, and may not contain MDMA. All students should be taught basic first aid for adverse drug reactions -- in oneself and in peers -- and the importance of calling emergency services (911) under such circumstances.

Additionally, health-program information must be reinforced in a student's home life. Even the best lessons can be negated by parents or older siblings who model risk-taking behavior by using or abusing alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Lastly, all conversations about Ecstasy should be grounded in adult empathy, rather than judgment. This is particularly important if a teen is "caught" using the drug.

The surest way to show empathy is to remember the turbulence and rebellion of your own teen years, even if drugs never played a part. Perhaps your own adolescent limit-testing involved underage driving, sneaking into the house after curfew, or dating the "wrong" person. How did the adults in your life treat your transgressions? What kind of adult-teen conversations would have been helpful to you?

Armed with such perspective, we can help our kids avoid harm and learn from their mistakes. Not only will they make better decisions with regard to Ecstasy, they also are more likely to come to us with regard to other key events in their teen and adult years.

Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com/.


Copyright 2006


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