MDMA may be the most popular party drug for the current generation of intrepid clubbers who are looking for a way to enhance their experience. But how does it compare to the popular psychedelic drug of the previous generation? Acid was once a widely used psychedelic drug with potent effects on the brain. Both drugs are used today, but what are they and how do they compare? Are they dangerous to their users?
Learn more about MDMA, acid, and their effects on your brain and body.
What Is MDMA?
MDMA is the shorthand name for 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, more commonly known as Molly or Ecstasy. It’s one of the most popular party drugs in the United States, and it’s often used in rave settings to achieve a euphoric high.
MDMA refers to the chemical found in popular party drugs like Molly, and it’s often sold in pill forms. However, the pills you might find on the street may not only contain the pure chemical. The term ecstasy refers to MDMA that’s been altered by adding stimulants like caffeine or amphetamines.
In your brain, MDMA has a powerful influence on the chemical process that sends messages throughout your nervous system. Specifically, MDMA affects a chemical messenger called serotonin, which is closely tied to things like appetite, sleep, and mood.
MDMA is often called an empathogen because of the way it influences feelings of empathy and closeness with others. This could also be tied to serotonin. When you experience feelings of love, interpersonal connection, and romance, your brain releases serotonin that gives you those warm fuzzy feelings.
Serotonin is released in large amounts when MDMA is in your system, which enhances feelings of love and empathy. This is also why it’s popular at parties and in club culture. A surge of social emotions can help partiers have a good time. However, your brain can only release so much serotonin at one time. Excessive amounts are recycled or destroyed through normal processes.
When you take MDMA, it releases and then destroys larger amounts than usual, leaving you with unpleasant feelings when the drug starts to wear off. This is called a comedown, and it refers to the unpleasant process your body goes through in recovering from a night of psychoactive chemicals.
Your brain releases serotonin and other rewarding chemicals through normal everyday activities. A healthy flow of the chemical messengers in your brain is an essential part of your mental health. However, after using MDMA, your brain won’t have enough serotonin to release during normal activities for the next several hours. This can cause depression, irritability, and fatigue.
What Is Acid?
Acid is the street name for a chemical called lysergic acid diethylamide (or LSD). The drug was first synthesized in 1938 by a scientist named Albert Hoffman that learned about its psychedelic effects after he accidentally gave himself a small dose.
For the next couple of decades, LSD was heavily researched all over the world, especially in the United States. In fact, the world was so enamored with this strange drug, even the CIA got involved with secret, controversial, and unethical LSD experiments that were made public. Though the CIA had dreams of using the drug for mind control, psychonauts in the 60s and 70s used it as a recreational drug. As illicit use spread, the drug was made illegal, and research slowed.
LSD is a potent drug, and it can be active in the microgram levels. It works in the brain by affecting several receptors, including dopamine, adrenergic, glutamate, and a specific serotonin receptor (5H2TA).
This serotonin receptor has been identified to be the most likely cause for some of LSD’s most dramatic effects, including hallucinations. LSD causes the receptor to activate continually for more than 12 hours until the drug is broken down. For that reason, LSD’s effects can last for a long time. Users may be experiencing the psychoactive effects of LSD long after they’re ready to be done with their drug trip.
LSD was a popular recreational drug in the 60s and 70s, but it’s long-lasting effects and the fact that other drugs can offer more euphoric highs have made recreational use less common. However, people today use LSD in practice called microdosing, which is when very small amounts of the drug are used to tap into the drug’s benefits without causing an intoxicating high. Researchers are still studying the effects of microdosing, but some say that the effects are mild, with very little reports of significant effects on perception, concentration, and consciousness.
How Dangerous Are These Drugs?
Both MDMA and LSD are powerful psychoactive drugs, and they should be taken seriously.
MDMA has a few immediate dangers when the drug is taken. One of the most famous is the risk of dehydration. MDMA raises your body temperature, and it can cause you to sweat, especially in a party setting when you’re dancing and moving around.
Ecstasy that’s mixed with stimulants can also increase the dehydrating effects of MDMA. For that reason, MDMA users need to drink water before, during, and after using the drug. In some cases, serious medical complications have occurred because MDMA users neglected to properly hydrate.
MDMA may cause some more long-term issues as a result of neurotoxicity. In studies of rats and monkeys, MDMA has shown some evidence of causing damaging effects to the brain. The evidence suggests that MDMA may have some damaging effects on serotonin neurons.
However, other studies have concluded that MDMA’s potential neurotoxicity needs more study before it can be ruled out as a chemical that’s used in certain therapeutic settings. Either way, most studies conclude that recreational users of MDMA are putting themselves at risk.
Acid has very few adverse physical effects and may not cause damage or dehydration as MDMA can. However, it can have some negative psychological effects. Because LSD alters your consciousness, causes hallucinations, and breaks down your sense of self, it can be dangerous for people who have mental health issues like schizophrenia.
A study in the 80s looked at people who were said to have “LSD psychosis” and found that they were clinically indistinguishable from schizophrenia patients. This means that the drug might actually induce schizophrenia in people that are vulnerable or predisposed to it.
LSD can also cause disturbing psychological events referred to as bad trips by psychedelic users. These trips can cause severe anxiety, panic attacks, and trauma. In some cases, people who used LSD experienced flashbacks that produce the effects of the high months after the drug has worn off. In the most extreme cases, users developed hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, which causes recurring, chronic psychedelic effects.