What are Club Drugs?

Club drugs (also sometimes called Dance Drugs or Designer Drugs) are drugs which at one time were found most frequently in night clubs and at raves, but have since become some of the fastest growing drugs used by college students. These drugs include MDMA (Ecstasy, E, or X), ketamine (special K), GHB, and crystal methamphetamine(speed, crank, crystal, tina).

What is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is the name for MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine). MDMA (and its close relation MDA) are classified as enactogens, drugs that have stimulant, hallucinogenic and mood-improving qualities. It was originally developed as a diet aid. Before it was made illegal in 1985, it was used experimentally by mental health professionals in controlled settings to help people in couple's counseling. It began to be used illicitly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though Ecstasy use remains rare, its use among teenagers almost doubled between 1998 and 2001 and it is the only drug which has shown a marked increase in consumption in the college population with a 69% increase between 1997 and 1999.

How is Ecstasy used?

Ecstasy is almost always swallowed in 60 to 120 mg pills. It is very infrequently snorted or taken in a liquid form through injection. The strength and contents of Ecstasy tablets cannot be known accurately. Sometimes these pills are stamped with symbols (like clover leafs, horseshoes, or smiley faces) as underground brand names or identifying markers. However, these symbols do not mean that a pill is pure or safe. All Ecstasy available on the street is produced in unregulated black market laboratories.

Why do people take Ecstasy?

Ecstasy produces a euphoric high that lasts from 3 to 4 hours by generating a rush of serotonin and a smaller amount of dopamine, the brain messenger molecules that help to regulate mood. Serotonin is the brain chemical that many antidepressants regulate. Users describe Ecstasy as making them empathic, producing a temporary state of openness. Depending on its contents, Ecstasy can also cause mild hallucinogenic effects. Users report that the rush of serotonin is pleasurable and produces both an emotionally relaxed and physically exhilarated state. However, this extremely fast deployment of serotonin can deplete normal serotonin levels and produce depression or malaise after the drug wears off.

Are there short-term dangers of taking Ecstasy?

Pills sold as Ecstasy may not be Ecstasy at all. MDMA purchased on the street is frequently laced with other drugs like cocaine, heroine, PCP, or toxic chemicals like PMA and DXM, atropine, and rat poison. In a 1996 study of Ecstasy content, 19 out of 33 pills (58%) were found to contain less than 25% MDMA. Only 5 pills (15%) were more than 75% MDMA.

Second, users report a number of side effects, including:

  • Heatstroke (also known as hyperthermia)
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Blurred vision
  • Faintness
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Teeth clenching
  • Day-after depression

Ecstasy raises your body temperature and heart rate. Combine this with hot conditions, the physical activity of dancing in a party or club, and not drinking water, and the greatest immediate danger of MDMA is heatstroke. Heatstroke (or hyperthermia) is the primary cause of death from Ecstasy. Someone taking Ecstasy should make sure to drink about a pint of water every hour while on Ecstasy, sipping, rather than drinking it all at once. Also, taking breaks from dancing on a hot dance floor to cool off is an important way to reduce the risk of heatstroke. Ecstasy-related deaths are relatively rare (there were 27 nationwide from 1994 to 1999). However, emergency room hospital visits are on the rise.

Ecstasy causes the release of norepinephrine, which increases your heart rate dramatically and can be dangerous for people with cardiovascular disease or weakness. Dehydration can also lead to liver or kidney failure. Some people report bad emotional reactions to Ecstasy including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia, sometimes lasting long after taking the drug. Using Ecstasy with alcohol and/or other drugs can increase the risk of adverse effects. Alcohol is dehydrating, too, and its depressant effects can mask the stimulant properties of Ecstasy misleading the user about how intoxicated they really are.

Finally, some studies have shown that people who use Ecstasy are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and having multiple sexual partners. The use of Ecstasy and other club drugs can also lead to unsafe sex, the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy.

Are there long-term consequences to taking Ecstasy?

Although further studies are needed, more and more research suggests that Ecstasy causes serotonin levels to drop below normal, which impairs the brain's ability to learn, retain information and regulate mood. It appears that Ecstasy causes serotonin receptors, which allow the serotonin to fire in the brain, to shrink from overuse. Some evidence shows that restoration of serotonin receptors is possible with continued abstinence from the drug, but that people who have never taken Ecstasy have more functioning serotonin receptors than those who have.

Other studies suggest that regular or heavy Ecstasy use has long-term negative effects on memory and brain function which go well beyond the last pill taken (and seem to continue to increase in spite of long-term abstinence from the drug). One study found that women are particularly vulnerable to damage to the serotonin system by MDMA.

How do I recognize a problem with Ecstasy?

Some danger signs are:

  • More frequent use
  • Needing more and more to get the same effect
  • Spending time thinking about using the drug
  • Spending more money than you have on it
  • Missing class or failing to finish assignments because of Ecstasy.
  • Making new friends who do it and neglecting old friends who don't
  • Finding it's hard to be happy without it.

If you find that you can't stop using Ecstasy, then remember, there's help available.

Is Ecstasy addictive?

Heavy users whose serotonin system is regularly depleted by the drug rely on greater quantities of the drug to produce smaller and smaller effects. Because your serotonin supply is finite, repeated dosing cannot provide a stronger or lengthened high after all your serotonin has been released. A study of young adult and adolescent ecstasy users found that 43% were dependent, and 34% met the criteria for drug abuse. Almost 60% of users reported both physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Frequently, though, Ecstasy users also use other drugs and alcohol and may be addicted to more than one drug simultaneously.

Is Ecstasy illegal?

Yes, Ecstasy is illegal and its possession, use, and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines and disciplinary consequences at UCSC. See the UCSC University Policy on Drugs on the Student Judicial Affairs website.

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them.


Resources at UCSC

Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Student Health Outreach & Promotion (SHOP)
SHOP provides confidential appointments for drug or alcohol concerns. SHOP is located in the Student Health Center, across the street from Colleges 9 & 10. As you walk up the ramp to the Health Center, SHOP is located in the building on your left, next to the Pharmacy.

Student Health Services
Confidential walk-in or appointment health care

Counseling & Psychological Services
CAPS staff provides the UCSC community with a wide range of mental health services, including short-term individual and couples counseling, group counseling, crisis assessment and intervention, and referral services.

Resources in Santa Cruz

Recovery Wave
Santa Cruz County's Alcohol and Drug Abuse help pages. If you think that you, a family member, or a friend has an alcohol or drug problem, you've come to the right place.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Narcotics Anonymous
831-429-7436 HOTLINE (24 hour) 
Call for current open meeting schedules. Disabled Accessibility. 

Marijuana Anonymous
P.O. Box 1481
Santa Cruz, CA 95061 
SC Hotline/Meetings: 
Self-help (non-religious) fellowship group for those who cannot control their marijuana use and are experiencing adverse effects in other areas of their life. No fee is charged.



Links You Can Use

Dance Safe
Dance Safe is a harm-reduction web site centered on drugs found in nightclubs and raves. The site offers drug information, a risk assessment, ecstasy testing kits and e-news.

The Good Drugs Guide
This British harm-reduction web site provides extensive information on cocaine, including the basics, dangers, mixing with other drugs and links.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 
This site has statistics, drug information and recent research reports on ecstasy.