What Happens To Your Body When You Take MDMA And Other Drugs?

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What Happens To Your Body When You Take MDMA And Other Drugs?

The use of MDMA is rampant in Western countries, with Ireland, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Belgium and Hungary ranking as the top five consuming countries of the drug. It gets its name from 3.4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine and is often referred to as ecstasy, although the type sold as 'molly' is supposedly the drug in its purest form.

But I'd imagine that most people don't know what actually happens to your body after you pop a pinger or rack a line of MD. Well, strap yourself in and let me explain.

How long it takes for the drug to kick in depends on how you ingest it, whether orally, nasally or rectally (yep, it's a thing and it's called shelving). It will also depend on how you take it orally; whether in its crystallised form, like eating popping candy, or in bombs or capsules, which will take longer to digest in your stomach.


Typically, it will take your body between 30 minutes to an hour for you to begin feeling the effects of the drug. As the receptors in your brain begin to process the MDMA, it will begin pumping out serotonin, also known as the happy hormone. This is why people who take the drug will usually be really friendly to strangers as well as shout in your ear how much they fucking love you.

But that's not the only chemical that gets increased by your brain when you start 'coming up'. The brain will also begin making more dopamine (the pleasure hormone) and norepinephrine (the stress/fight-or-flight hormone).

Norepinephrine will make your body awake and alert, promoting vigilance and focusing attention. Not only will this be the thing that's keeping you awake until well past sunrise, but it will also cause you to sometimes stare vacantly at bright lights as the norepinephrine and serotonin make you think that shit is amazing.


Your body is also getting more dopamine, which makes pretty much anything seem a thousand times better. You can tell when someone is munted when you look at their pupils. Typically, people who are high on MDMA will have pupils the size of dinner plates. That's a result of the dopamine causing a process called mydriasis, which is a fancy word for the dilatation of your pupil.

What about the classic gurn? You might have come across this at a club or party, when that guy or girl has been absolutely chewing their mouth off. As you're coming up on MDMA and for the majority of the high, you can experience involuntary mouth clenching. The technical term is bruxism and it's believed it's brought on because of the increased serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Users can often wake up in the morning with a powerful jaw ache, unaware that they were clenching their teeth for a solid eight hours.


The drug will also raise your blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. This results in a classic sweat-fest where even the driest of people will start oozing from every orifice. It's important to stay hydrated when on these types of drugs as your body is already doing its best to regulate its temperature.

An MDMA comedown is pretty horrific as well. Your body made a tonne of serotonin so you could dance to Robin S's 'Show Me Love' all night long, but the next day your body is seriously depleted of the hormone. Also, because your serotonin receptors have been stimulated to such an extent, they go into a period of shutdown until your body can produce the hormone at a normal level.


This is why people often have big bouts of sadness or depression as well as feelings of hopelessness and loneliness. You might normally be able to watch First Dates and laugh, but on a comedown you could easily burst into tears because the two people just smiled at each other. A comedown can last as long as three days, depending on what additional drugs you took on the night as well as the quantity of MDMA.


The ganja has, over the years, been shown to provide several health benefits to those with chronic illnesses, anxiety, depression and other conditions. The high usually makes people relaxed, happy, giggly and hungry - but what causes all those emotions and feelings?

The main ingredient in cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is responsible for causing the majority of the effects. It gets absorbed into the bloodstream and sent to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The brain already naturally produces something called endocannabinoids, and the THC will interfere with the normal functioning of the receptor. That's why you come up with some deep questions like, 'If you were born deaf, what language would you think in?'


Like MDMA, one of the stereotypical side effects of smoking weed is changes to your eyes. Effects change from person to person and strain to strain, but usually users will have red eyes like they'd just stayed up all night polishing off an essay. The redness is a result of the cannabis making your blood pressure drop, causing your vessels and capillaries to dilate. This is why it's such an effective combatant against glaucoma as the weed will relax the pressure that the condition causes.

Another aspect of the weed high is the ability to laugh at anything. The giggles are believed to be caused an increased blood flow to the right frontal lobe, which is linked to increased humour appreciation. Your body is also dealing with more dopamine and endorphins and that gives your body that happy feeling.

Mary-Jane makes many people feel extremely hungry, a sensation known in this context as 'the munchies', and that's because the THC is stimulating your appetite. A study in mice found that the psychoactive element fits into the brain's olfactory bulb and increases its ability to smell and taste food.

Magic Mushrooms

The drug can be eaten or infused in a drink and have been used as early as 6,000 years ago. The 2017 Global Drug Survey also found that shrooms have caused the least amount of ER hospital admissions across the world compared with every other type of substance. The trip can last anywhere from three to eight hours, and the drug hasn't been shown to been addictive.

Shrooms are another recreational drug which are shown to have some impressive effects on the brain. Check out this amazing image from the Journal of the Royal Society Interface which shows the brain connection between someone on shrooms (right) and someone on a placebo (left).

Your brain on magic mushrooms
Your brain on magic mushrooms

Credit: Journal of the Royal Society Interface

People often describe being able to 'smell the colour nine' while tripping - a false sense of synaesthesia caused by the main psychoactive ingredient, psilocybin, which the body breaks down into psilocin. It can be very much influenced by the user's surroundings so it's best not to do it with unfamiliar people or surroundings.

Psilocin affects the brain prefrontal cortex which regulates abstract thinking and thought analysis, as well as mood and perception. The chemical plays with receptors in the brain which use serotonin, and because it has a similar makeup to serotonin, it can cause you to be stimulated by things that aren't there.

One effect that people sometimes experience is an out-of-body experience - that's because, while the drug will increase the connections between brain circuits, it mutes the region of the brain which maintains our sense of self.

Building on top of that, the psilocin will cause you brain to form new organic pathways - which makes it tough to distinguish reality from the trip. While that can sound scary, those new brain connections allow you to think outside the box, which is why the drug is usually associated with creativity.

This is also why the drug is believed to be beneficial to those suffering depression. A group of people were given the drug in a laboratory environment, with a third reporting it to be the most spiritually significant experience they've ever had. A few months later, as a follow up to the experiment, 79 percent of respondents said they had increased well-being and satisfaction.


The white powder has been rocketed into the realms of fame because of shows like Narcos as well as the copious amounts seen snorted in The Wolf of Wall Street. It can also be inhaled or injected.

But when the powder enters your body, it's absorbed into the bloodstream and floods the part of the brain called ventral tegmental area (VTA). Your receptors are then overflowing with dopamine because the cocaine blocks the transporter which regulates dopamine levels. This is what causes that 'don't fuck with me, I'm invincible' feeling that you get after a line or two.

Your heart rate will jump, along with blood pressure and body temperature. That's a result of the cocaine driving up the amount of norepinephrine in your brain. You'll remember from MDMA, that is your fight-or-flight response chemical. The uptake in these two chemicals also suppress your appetite - which is why you're not craving a Big Mac at the club. Your pupils will dilate again because of the increased amount of dopamine in your brain.

While it's not anecdotally as severe as an ecstasy comedown, your body will be in a deficit of serotonin and dopamine. Considering that a line will usually only get you high for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on purity), you'll want to do more and more to keep that euphoric feeling.


This is another white powder that is typically snorted, but gives a very different high to cocaine. While you might get a rush from coke, you'll typically have out-of-body experiences on ket as well as a detachment from your surroundings.

It's typically used as a sedative and anaesthetic in the medical world, and recreationally it produces a similar feeling. When it's snorted, it can produce mild hallucinations and change your sense of sight and sound.

When it's absorbed into the brain, the chemical targets pain receptors and blocks them, which is why you can get an element of numbness. But the feeling of being spaced out is a result of ketamine's interaction with glutamate-producing brain cell receptor sites. This neurotransmitter chemical is responsible for regulating information processing, as well as the way different parts of your body communicates with each other.

That's why sometimes you might be dad-dancing at the club - your brain genuinely doesn't know to tell your legs and arms to work together.

But you can have too much of a good thing; and this is where the K-hole comes into play. It can either be a fucked-up place where you can't escape or can be a wonderful and magic state of mind - it all depends on your surroundings.

A K-hole is essentially what happens when you have too much ketamine. The drug slows down your central nervous system to the point where you don't know where you are, how you got there, who you are or who is around you. Yeah, sounds fucked-up. Some people report minutes feel like hours and they're unable to move any part of their body because the brain can't communicate with anything.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: MDMA, Cocaine, Drugs, weed

Stewart Perrie
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