Ecstasy, or MDMA is an illegal drug taken by an estimated half a million people in the UK every weekend. Whilst the drug does not usually result in death, it can be very dangerous and even fatal in high doses.
In the light of several deaths of young women, new information has arisen about the increased risk of ecstasy use for women. As well as statistics pointing towards circumstantial differences in the way that women and men take drugs — such as women being less likely to purchase their own substances or know how much they are taking — biological differences between males and females mean that women are far more susceptible to experiencing harmful side effects.
One of the main, and most dangerous negative effects of the drug is a condition called ‘hyponatremia’, which develops when there is too much water in the cells of the body. Ecstasy makes the body hold on to water, and people who take it also tend to drink water in order to feel hydrated. This has the potential to damage the brain as the cells swell. The reason why females are more likely to be affected than males is because oestrogen affects the ability of the cell’s pumps to remove this excess water.
A 2010 study at the ‘Awakenings’ festival in The Netherlands found that only 3 per cent of men had a mild form of hypotremia, in contrast to over 25 per cent of women. If too much ecstasy is taken, then this can become fatal.
Not only is ecstasy dangerous to women on a biological level, but it is very difficult to know exactly how much is being ingested. The amount of MDMA in pills has increased over the past few years, and according to the Global Drug Survey 2016 there has been a “four-fold increase in British female clubbers seeking emergency medical treatment in last 3 years”. This increase in strength may also explain the increase in female casualties, as they have a tendency to react badly to high doses of MDMA.
Sacha-Lord Marchionne, co-founder of Manchester’s The Warehouse Project explains that “over the last two years specifically, the strength of tablets has increased four or five times”, and also states that any club owner who claims that no drugs enter their venue is “a liar”. The Warehouse Project is the only nightclub in the UK that runs on-site drug testing, and can therefore issue warnings about any pills found to be particularly high in potency.
In The Netherlands testing facilities are in place, partly funded by the government, where drug-users can have their ecstasy anonymously tested for strength. Although ecstasy use is illegal in The Netherlands, the low death rate from ecstasy may be due to this safeguard being in place.
However, most people do not know how strong their ecstasy pills are, so the only way to stay completely safe is to not take ecstasy at all. This being said, women who do choose to take the drug should be aware of how much they are taking, and the general advice is to take only half a pill at a time, and never to take more than one. The global drug survey has issued a guide to harm reduction and taking drugs more safely, which can be found at globaldrugsurvey.com.