Popular Party Drugs and Summertime Risks: Alcohol, Ecstasy, Cocaine and Other Drugs
Alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines are popular party drugs, particularly with
older teens and 20-somethings. Ecstasy and its various forms (known as Molly, MDMA, E, X, and Adam) is commonly used at concerts, festivals, raves, clubs and other high energy
environments where users dance and feel a range of intensely pleasurable effects such as closeness with others. Cocaine has similar euphoric effects, which include energy and a deceptive sense of mental clarity. Like cocaine, methamphetamine and other amphetamines release an intense amount of dopamine in the brain, causing users to feel confident and strong. Alcohol, of course, is ubiquitous and a social lubricant.
Effect of Summer Heat. These drugs all carry special risks in the summertime heat. Both
ecstasy and alcohol dehydrate users. Dehydration can lead to overheating, convulsing or seizing. Cocaine disrupts the body's ability to regulate its temperature.
Amphetamines delay a sense of heat and exhaustion. All of this can spark potentially fatal heart stroke.
Lethal Additives to Ecstasy and Cocaine. Additionally, these and other drugs are increasingly being laced with Fentanyl, Levamisole and other dangerous chemical additives. Fentanyl overdoses and deaths are all too common these days as Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is cheap to make, is used as a filler which results in more profit and it adds a "boost" to the effects of other drugs. Levamisole is another potentially lethal additive and it has been found in 75% of all cocaine seized by the DEA in the U.S. and around the world. The effects of Levamisole are described below, as are other fillers often added to cocaine and chemicals and synthetic ingredients used in cocaine.
Data on Usage. According to Healthy Kids survey results, around 10% of 11th graders report having using Ecstasy, LSD or other psychedelics at least once in their lifetime (the question was not broken out for MDMA, Ecstasy, Molly and LSD). Cocaine lifetime use is around half that among 11th graders surveyed. While the numbers are relatively low, the risks associated with these drugs are high. There are too many instances of being "one and done", with these drugs ending in overdoses and death. This is true now more than ever with fentanyl and other deadly substances being laced with these drugs.
Cocaine's Comeback. Moreover, these party drugs are commonly used by college
students and young adults out in the working world. With respect to cocaine, the amount of coca under cultivation in Colombia has skyrocketed since negotiations and the peace accords with FARC, the rebel group engaged in drug trafficking, in the past five years as other drug lords and paramilitary groups have taken its place. With the increase in supply, the cost has dropped dramatically. Thus, cocaine has made a comeback and we are seeing that with our teens and young adults.
MDMA, ECSTASY and MOLLY
MDMA is perceived as benign compared to other drugs such as cocaine or hallucinogens such as LSD. It is a synthetic drug, that alters mood and perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions). It is chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens, producing feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth and distorted sensory and time perception.
MDMA was initially popular in the nightclub scene and at all-night dance parties (“raves”). Today, the drug affects a broader range of people who more commonly call the drug Ecstasy or Molly, a relative of Ecstasy. It still is considered a “party drug” and is popular at nightclubs, outdoor music festivals, concerts, large parties and interactive, high-energy environments. For an article in one of our student-run newspapers on the drugs used in the club scene, including Molly, click here.
MDMA is usually taken as a capsule or tablet, though some swallow it in liquid form or snort the powder. Once consumed, it takes about 15 minutes to enter the bloodstream and the brain, producing almost instant feelings of euphoria and closeness, while diminishing a user’s anxieties. The effects can last anywhere from three to six hours. Many users take a second dose as the effects of the first dose begin to fade or they take more than one pill at a time to enhance their experience.
Effect on the Brain. MDMA increases the activity of three brain chemicals: Dopamine (which causes a surge in euphoria and increased energy/activity), Norepinephrine (which increases heart rate and blood pressure) and Serotonin (which affects mood, appetite, sleep and other functions.) It also triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust. The release of large amounts of serotonin likely causes the emotional closeness, elevated mood, and empathy felt by users.
Other health effects. High doses of MDMA can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to a spike in body temperature which can result in hyperthermia. That can occasionally result in liver, kidney or heart failure or even death. When taken in overcrowded, overheated environments such as a music venue, MDMA also can lead to severe dehydration which can lead to overheating, convulsing or seizing. Finally, because MDMA promotes trust and closeness, its use can encourage unsafe sexual behavior.
Molly. After Ecstasy earned a bad reputation in the 1990’s, the drug was rebranded and Molly, with its seemingly sweet and innocent name, appeared on the scene. Slang for “molecular”, Molly refers to the supposedly “pure” crystalline powder form of MDMA, usually sold in capsules for about $40 per 100 milligram pill. This is a marketing ploy.
Molly users often actually get other drugs such as synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”), cocaine, ketamine (found in horse tranquilizers), methamphetamine, heroin, PCP or over-the-counter cough medicine, caffeine and even rat poison. These substances can be instead of MDMA or in addition to MDMA. They can be extremely dangerous because the person does not know what they are taking. They are also harmful when combined with pure MDMA. And as with other drugs, combining Molly with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs is especially risky.
Taking Molly is like playing a game of Russian Roulette. The DEA says that only 13% of the Molly seized in New York state over the last four years actually contained any MDMA and even then it often was mixed with other drugs. Molly is often manufactured in countries such as China, where the ingredients can be mixed in unsanitary places like toilet bowls and bathtubs. No one knows the truth as to how each batch of Molly is prepared. In a six year span, emergency room visits related to the use of Ecstasy, MDMA and Molly rose by 128% among those under the age of 21. Since 2013, there has been an extensive string of Molly deaths and overdoses throughout the country. Horror stories abound of young adults taking one dose and dying almost instantaneously from Molly.
It is tragic that Molly is used among teens and young adults today who are simply looking for a “good” time. Molly is marketed to teens who are first-time drug users as well as rave and electronic dance music fans who may think they are getting MDMA. Molly is also popularized in rap lyrics and pop culture. Miley Cyrus's "We Can't Stop" made the term "dancing with Molly" famous. Sadly, her song was released during the same week that two kids died from Molly at a New York music festival.
Signs of Use. Symptoms include hyperactivity, unusual confidence, jerky movements, inability to sleep, talkativeness, grinding or chattering teeth, very large pupils, sweating, thirst, lack of appetite, staring, “spittin” cotton (spit is like a cotton ball). The comedown can be depression, fear, listlessness, apathy, muscle aches, cramps and mood swings. Not everyone who uses this drug shows all of these symptoms.
Use of Lollipops, Pacifiers and Gum. As these drugs speed up activity in the central nervous system, the excess adrenaline causes users to grind their teeth and clench their jaw or their teeth to chatter. This is why users often suck on lollipops or pacifiers or chew a lot of gum when using Molly, Ecstasy or MDMA.
COCAINE As mentioned, cocaine has made a comeback in our high schools and on college campuses, especially among female students, for weight loss. Cocaine is an illegal powerfully addictive stimulant drug which looks like a fine, white, crystal powder.
Legal Additives Used as Fillers. Levamisole is a cut that is now being added in Columbia, when before it used to leave the continent almost pure. It a chemical used to kill parasitic worms in animals and is highly toxic. It is present in almost all the cocaine samples seized in the U.S. and around the world. It's used because it has a similar texture to cocaine. It can also produce an effect in the body similar to methamphetamines. This leads the user to believe they are getting good stuff because it makes them feel speedy. Plus it increases dopamine production in the brain. This further intensifies the euphoric effects caused by coke itself. Levasimole's presence in the body results in a severe depletion of the body's white blood cells and wearing of the immune system. It increases the risk of agranulocytosis which has been compared to a "has been compared to a "chemical form of AIDS". The body's defenses are so fragile that a simple scratch can turn into a life-threatening illness.
In the U.S., street dealers are "stepping on" the cocaine more and mix it with things like boric acid (an insecticide and disinfectant), phenacetin (a painkiller), paracetamol (a pain reliever), mannitol ( food flavoring and diuretic), creatine (a bodybuilding supplement), powdered sugar, baking soda, cornstarch, talcum powder or flour to increase profits. It may also be mixed with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine.
Other Synthetic Cocaine Ingredients. If that weren't enough, there are many other chemicals and substances used in cocaine. Numbing agents are especially popular because one numbs the moth. A user will often taste their product before they buy it to make sure it is legit. However, dealers will often cut their product with Lidocaine or Benzocaine, used by dentists.
Beyond numbing agents, cocaine also includes other chemicals such as hairspray, gasoline, cement, hydrochloric acid, a strong chemical oxidant (potassium permanganate), and caffeine powder.
Methods of use. People snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder in water and inject it into the bloodstream. Some users inject a combination of cocaine and heroin called a “speedball”. Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that is processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”). The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. This form of cocaine is called “Crack”, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it’s heated.
Short-Term Effects. These include extreme happiness and energy, mental alertness, and hypersensitivity to sight, sound and touch. Cocaine use can also result in irritability and paranoia. Some people find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and mental tasks more quickly, although others experience the opposite effect. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable and violent behavior.
Cocaine effects appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. How long the effects last and how intense they are depend on the method of use. The high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes. People who use cocaine often take it in binges - taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses to maintain their high.
Overdose. An overdose can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. Many people who use cocaine also drink alcohol at the same time, which is particularly risky and can lead to overdose. Others mix cocaine with heroin (called "speedballing"), another dangerous and deadly combination. Some of the most frequent and severe health consequences leading to overdose involve the heart and blood vessels, including irregular heart rhythm and heart attacks, and the nervous system, including seizures and strokes.
Alcohol is ubiquitous over all seasons of the year, not just during summertime. Particular care should be taken over the hot summer months, especially at outdoor music festivals because of it's dehydrating effects. For our blog on the health effects and risks of alcohol use by teens, click here.
The bottom line? It's so important to discuss the dangers of these drugs with your child before summer is in full swing. For a discussion on what to do when someone passes out or is unresponsive, read our blog on "Calling 911 and Good Samaritan Laws".