There’s a whole world of drugs out there, from Molly to Mary Jane (side-note: why are there so many human slang names?). We’re here to talk about the former’s pill form - Ecstasy. It’s a popular party drug that can get you dancing all night. But it’s not all fun and games. There can be some serious risks to taking ecstasy, especially if you didn’t get it from a trusted source. Let’s talk about ec-st-a-cy, all the good things and the bad things that may be.

A young woman is showing her friend ecstacy facts on her phone. The young woman has her back to the camera. The younf man looks interested. This is a wide-angle image.

What is ecstasy? 

Ecstasy is another name for the stimulant drug MDMA or 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (try saying that when you’re high). Ecstasy is the name used for pills with MDMA in them, while MDMA is used for the ‘purer’ powder form. You can find out more about the effects and risks of MDMA here. 

It can be used in a clinical setting to help people suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because it allows them to relax and open up. But it’s more commonly known for its reputation as a party drug.

Ecstasy pills are generally coloured with an image printed on top. The problem is that sometimes pills being sold as ecstasy don’t actually contain any MDMA. So you can’t always be sure what you’re taking. Confused yet? You’re not the only one. 

If it’s not ecstasy, what else could it be?

Technically anything; caffeine, amphetamines or, increasingly often, PMA.

Now that we’ve answered the question, ‘what is ecstasy?’ , but you might be wondering ‘what the hell is PMA?’ PMA is a drug that mimics the effects of ecstasy, for example it increases heart rate. But it doesn’t have the same euphoric high, so users’ experience will be different. Taking it can also cause hallucinations, unlike MDMA.

Our number one advice would be to make sure you’re buying from a trusted dealer, but even if you are – don’t do a whole bag at once. Take it slow and see how the drug affects you before you go in on it.

What are the dangers of PMA?

The biggest danger is that people can die from taking it, the same stands for MDMA. Putting that to one side, it’s still more dangerous because:

  • It’s a lot more toxic, so it’s much easier to overdose.
  • It takes longer than MDMA to work, so you think you need to take more.
  • You’re at risk of seriously overheating – the most common reason for death – which leads to dehydration. HOWEVER there’s also a risk of drinking too much water, which can also be fatal, so it’s a dangerous balancing act.
  • It can make you paranoid and depressed.
  • It can cause muscle spasms and make you feel sick.

How can I make sure ecstasy or molly is pure?  

There’s no real way of knowing, unless you’re a master chemist, as PMA often looks exactly like an ecstasy tablet. In fact, all illegal drugs kind of look like the same powder.

Even using a dealer you trust or taking pills that look similar to ones you’ve had before isn’t a guarantee it’s MDMA not PMA. But, it’s worth watching the news for drugs that definitely contain PMA – e.g., in 2013, green tablets with imprints of Rolex logos were found to contain PMA.

How can I reduce the risks of taking pills that may contain PMA? 

  • If a pill takes longer than 45 minutes to work, it’s probably PMA, so don’t take any more as side-effects could intensify.
  • Call an ambulance if you get overheated.
  • If you’re feeling really hot, don’t suddenly run into the night – quick changes in temperature can be dangerous.
  • Sip small amounts of water regularly to prevent dehydration.
  • Stay with your friends and decide on somewhere to meet in case you get separated.

Next Steps

  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. Call now on 0300 123 6600
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


drugs a-z

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 26-Aug-2021