While it may seem minor, an Ecstasy possession or distribution offense can carry serious penalties in Houston and throughout Texas. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson has proven his success in defending those charged with serious drug offenses. Houston Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson understands what you are up against, and knows the best defense strategies to preserve your rights and your freedom.
Ecstasy is one of the most dangerous drugs threatening young people today. Called MDMA (3-4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) by scientists, it is a synthetic chemical that can be derived from an essential oil of the sassafras tree. MDMA is also one of the easiest illegal drugs to obtain. Its effects are similar to those of amphetamines and hallucinogens. Distributed almost anywhere, it has become very popular at social events like raves, hip hop parties, concerts, etc. frequented by both adults and youth. While not all “event” attendees use Ecstasy, the drug often makes the circuit of these parties and can set up dangerous circumstances that can affect everyone there.
What is Ecstasy?
MDMA or Ecstasy is a Schedule I, synthetic, psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Ecstasy possesses chemical variations of the stimulant amphetamine or methamphetamine and a hallucinogen, most often mescaline. Ecstasy is a semi-synthetic chemical compound. Ecstasy is a white, crystalline powder in its pure form. It is usually seen in capsule form, in pressed pills, or as loose powder. Average cost ranges from $10-$30 (U.S.) a dose. Ecstasy is rarely consumed with alcohol, as alcohol is believed to diminish its effects. It is most often distributed at late-night parties called “raves”, nightclubs, and rock concerts. As the rave and club scene expands to metropolitan and suburban areas across the country, ecstasy use and distribution are increasing as well.
- MDMA is a “mood elevator” that produces a relaxed, euphoric state. It does not produce hallucinations.
- MDMA takes effect 20 to 40 minutes after taking a tablet, with little rushes of exhilaration which can be accompanied by nausea. 60 to 90 minutes after taking the drug, the user feels the peak effects.
- Sensations are enhanced and the user experiences hightened feelings of empathy, emotional warmth, and self-acceptance.
- The effects of ‘real’ ecstasy subside after about 3-5 hours.
- Users report that the experience is very pleasant and highly controllable. Even at the peak of the effect, people can usually deal with important matters.
- The effect that makes MDMA different from other drugs is that it increases a sense of empathy, or the sensation of understanding and accepting others.
Teenagers and young adults are the primary abusers of MDMA; however, MDMA is gaining popularity among older users. According to TCADA, MDMA-related treatment admissions to TCADA-funded treatment facilities increased from 63 in 1998 to 521 in 2002. MDMA is widely available throughout Texas, particularly in metropolitan areas such as Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. DAWN data indicate that MDMA ED mentions in the Dallas metropolitan area increased dramatically from 17 in 1997 to 77 in 2001. Contributing to the threat is increasing MDMA availability in suburban and rural areas. Law enforcement authorities in Bee, Gonzales, and Wharton Counties report increased MDMA availability in their jurisdictions.
What is the history of ecstasy?
MDMA was patented as long ago as 1913 by the German company Merck. Rumor has it that the drug was sold as a slimming pill along with comic descriptions of its strange side effects, although it was never marketed and the patent doesn’t mention uses. The next time it came to light was in 1953 when the US army tested a number of drugs for military applications – again, folklore says it was tried as a truth drug but there is no evidence for this.
The years between 1977 and 1985 are viewed as the ‘golden age’ of Ecstasy. In psychotherapy, its use only appealed to a few experimental therapists since it didn’t fit in with the usual 50-minute psychotherapy session. The therapists that did use it include some of the most dynamic people in the field, including some who claimed that a five hour Ecstasy session was as good as 5 months of therapy.
By 1984 MDMA was still legal and was being used widely among students in the USA under its new name ‘Ecstasy’. (Rumor has it that a big-time dealer called it ‘Empathy’, although the name is more appropriate, he found that Ecstasy had more sales appeal.) In Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, Ecstasy was even on sale in bars where you could pay by credit card. It replaced cocaine as the drug of choice among yuppies and even spread to people who normally kept well clear of drugs. However, it was this public and unashamed use that resulted in the drug being outlawed.
The criminalisation of ecstasy in America has wide-ranging consequences. The first was to prevent the drug being used by professional therapists, except in Switzerland. The second was to reduce the quality of the drug as sold on the street, because demand was now met by clandestine laboratories and the drug was distributed through the criminal network. Although the number of users was dramatically reduced at first, criminalisation did not prevent the drug’s popularity from spreading worldwide.
Nicknames and Street Names for Ecstasy
Ecstasy usually appears as a small pill or tablet in various colors, sometimes with a logo stamped on it. Here are the common nicknames and street names for Ecstasy:
- X, E, or XTC
- Dancing Shoes
- Disco Biscuits
- Egg Rolls
- Happy Pill
- Hug Drug
- Love Drug
- Malcolm (or Malcolm X)
- Scooby Snacks
- Vitamin E or Vitamin X
Slang Terms for Ecstasy Use and Abuse
Here are some common slang terms for using Ecstasy or to describe someone who uses Ecstasy:
- Drop, Double Drop
- Flip or Flipping
- Roll, Rolling
- Cuddle Puddle, E-Puddle
- Raver, Raving
What does it look like?
Ecstasy usually comes in a tablet form that is often branded. Such logos or trademarks include CK (Calvin Klein), shamrocks, stars, Woody the Woodpecker, Dino, Pinocchio, Snoopy, Love, and many other colors, symbols/logos. A sample of several logo/trademark tablets are shown below:
It is clear that most of the logos/trademarks found on Ecstasy tablets are aimed at young adults. The logos/trademarks entice one to believe that Ecstasy is safe, almost candy-like. Do not be fooled. While attractive and interesting, these tablets, even in their purest form, contain a dangerous controlled substance that could take your life. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for such pills to be tainted with dangerous substances other than Ecstasy. Ecstasy is not produced in safely regulated laboratory environments where the contents of what goes into the drug are closely scrutinized.
How is it used?
Ecstasy is usually taken in pill form and swallowed and it can also be injected. Some users have been known to crush and snort the resulting powder. Others insert the pill into the anus where it is absorbed. This process is known as “shafting.” Liquid Ecstasy is actually GHB, a nervous system depressant—a substance that can also be found in drain cleaner, floor stripper and degreasing solvents.
What is the dosage?
E is almost always swallowed as a tablet or capsule. A normal dose is around 100-125 mg. Black market “ecstasy” tablets vary widely in strength, and often contain other drugs.
How Is MDMA Abused?
MDMA is taken orally, usually as a capsule or tablet. It was initially popular among Caucasian adolescents and young adults in the nightclub scene or at weekend-long dance parties known as raves. More recently, the profile of the typical MDMA user has changed, with the drug now affecting a broader range of ethnic groups. MDMA is also popular among urban gay males—some report using MDMA as part of a multiple-drug experience that includes marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, sildenafil (Viagra), and other legal and illegal substances.
What are its short-term effects?
Users report that Ecstasy produces intensely pleasurable effects — including an enhanced sense of self-confidence and energy. Effects include feelings of peacefulness, acceptance and empathy. Users say they experience feelings of closeness with others and a desire to touch others. Other effects can include involuntary teeth clenching, a loss of inhibitions, transfixion on sights and sounds, nausea, blurred vision, chills and/or sweating. Increases in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as seizures, are also possible. The stimulant effects of the drug enable users to dance for extended periods, which when combined with the hot crowded conditions usually found at raves, can lead to severe dehydration and hyperthermia or dramatic increases in body temperature. This can lead to muscle breakdown and kidney, liver and cardiovascular failure. Cardiovascular failure has been reported in some of the Ecstasy-related fatalities. After-effects can include sleep problems, anxiety and depression.
- Impaired judgment
- False sense of affection
- Sleep problems
- Severe anxiety
- Drug cravings
- Muscle tension
- Faintness and chills or swelling
- Involuntary teeth clenching
- Blurred vision
What are its long-term effects?
Repeated use of Ecstasy ultimately may damage the cells that produce serotonin, which has an important role in the regulation of mood, appetite, pain, learning and memory. There already is research suggesting Ecstasy use can disrupt or interfere with memory.
- Long-lasting brain damage affecting thought and memory
- Damage to portions of the brain that regulate critical functions such as learning, sleep and emotion
- It is as if the brain switchboard was torn apart, then rewired backwards
- Degenerated nerve branches and nerve endings
- Depression, anxiety, memory loss
- Kidney failure
- Cardiovascular collapse
What are some types of paraphernalia associated with Ecstasy use?
- Pacifiers, Blo-pops, Popsicle sticks
- M&Ms, Skittles, Tootsie-Rolls, Candy necklaces
- Glo-sticks, Bottled water
- Dust / surgical masks
- Vicks Vapor Rub
- Strobe lights
- Suppository bottles
The pacifier is used to prevent the grinding of teeth that is often a physical side effect when using Ecstasy. Glow sticks are used to increase the visual psychedelic effects associated with the use of Ecstasy. Vapor rub in a surgical mask that is placed over the nose and mouth is used to enhance the euphoric effects of Ecstasy. None of these items alone indicates use of Ecstasy. However, in the right context, such items are tools which enhance the Ecstasy “high,” and cut down on the undesirable effects of the drug.
How Does MDMA Affect the Brain?
MDMA exerts its primary effects in the brain on neurons that use the chemical (or neurotransmitter) serotonin to communicate with other neurons. The serotonin system plays an important role in regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. MDMA binds to the serotonin transporter, which is responsible for removing serotonin from the synapse (or space between adjacent neurons) to terminate the signal between neurons; thus MDMA increases and prolongs the serotonin signal. MDMA also enters the serotonergic neurons via the transporter (because MDMA resembles serotonin in chemical structure) where it causes excessive release of serotonin from the neurons. MDMA has similar effects on another neurotransmitter—norepinephrine, which can cause increases in heart rate and blood pressure. MDMA also releases dopamine, but to a much lesser extent.
MDMA can produce confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and severe anxiety. These problems can occur soon after taking the drug or, sometimes, even days or weeks after taking MDMA. In addition, chronic users of MDMA perform more poorly than nonusers on certain types of cognitive or memory tasks, although some of these effects may be due to the use of other drugs in combination with MDMA. Research in animals indicates that MDMA can be harmful to the brain—one study in nonhuman primates showed that exposure to MDMA for only 4 days caused damage to serotonin nerve terminals that was still evident 6 to 7 years later. Although similar neurotoxicity has not been shown definitively in humans, the wealth of animal research indicating MDMA’s damaging properties strongly suggests that MDMA is not a safe drug for human consumption.
For some people, MDMA can be addictive. A survey of young adult and adolescent MDMA users found that 43 percent of those who reported ecstasy use met the accepted diagnostic criteria for dependence, as evidenced by continued use despite knowledge of physical or psychological harm, withdrawal effects, and tolerance (or diminished response). These results are consistent with those from similar studies in other countries that suggest a high rate of MDMA dependence among users. MDMA abstinence-associated withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, depressed feelings, and trouble concentrating.
What Other Adverse Effects Does MDMA Have on Health?
MDMA can also be dangerous to overall health and, on rare occasions, lethal. MDMA can have many of the same physical effects as other stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines. These include increases in heart rate and blood pressure—which present risks of particular concern for people with circulatory problems or heart disease—and other symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating.
In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. On rare but unpredictable occasions, this can lead to a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), which can result in liver, kidney, cardiovascular system failure, or death. MDMA can interfere with its own metabolism (breakdown within the body); therefore, potentially harmful levels can be reached by repeated MDMA administration within short periods of time. Other drugs that are chemically similar to MDMA, such as MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine, the parent drug of MDMA) and PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine, associated with fatalities in the United States and Australia), are sometimes sold as ecstasy. These drugs can be neurotoxic or create additional health risks to the user. Furthermore, ecstasy tablets may contain other substances, such as ephedrine (a stimulant); dextromethorphan (DXM, a cough suppressant); ketamine (an anesthetic used mostly by veterinarians); caffeine; cocaine; and methamphetamine. Although the combination of MDMA with one or more of these drugs may be inherently dangerous, users who also combine these with additional substances such as marijuana and alcohol may be putting themselves at even higher risk for adverse health effects.
What Treatment Options Exist?
There are no specific treatments for MDMA abuse and addiction. The most effective treatments for drug abuse and addiction in general are cognitive-behavioral interventions that are designed to help modify the patient’s thinking, expectancies, and behaviors related to their drug use and to increase skills in coping with life stressors. Drug abuse recovery support groups may also be effective in combination with behavioral interventions to support long-term, drug-free recovery. There are currently no pharmacological treatments for addiction to MDMA.
What are the symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal?
The most common ecstasy withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:
- panic attacks
- paranoid delusions
Ecstasy is NOT legally produced anywhere in the world. Most of the MDMA abused in Texas is produced in the Netherlands and Belgium. MDMA production may be emerging in Texas, but to a very limited extent. MDMA is smuggled into Texas from Canada, Europe, and Mexico primarily by Israeli criminal groups. To a lesser extent, Dominican criminal groups also smuggle MDMA into Texas. MDMA transporters use several means to smuggle the drug, including couriers on foot entering the United States from Mexico, couriers traveling on commercial and private aircraft, private vehicles, and via package delivery services.
Caucasian local independent dealers and, to a lesser extent, Asian criminal groups, are the primary wholesale and retail distributors of MDMA in Texas. Many retail-level MDMA distributors in Texas are middle and upper-middle class Caucasian high school or college students. MDMA typically is distributed at colleges, raves, nightclubs, and private parties. MDMA distributed in Texas often is stamped with a brand name or a logo. According to DEA, in the fourth quarter of FY2002 MDMA sold for $25 per tablet in Dallas, $16 to $20 per tablet in El Paso, and $10 to $30 per tablet in Houston.
MDMA also is transported from Texas to destinations in other U.S. states. For example, some Asian criminal groups transport shipments of MDMA from Texas, primarily overland, to major drug markets on the East Coast.
A large proportion of the retail trade is conducted by people buying for their friends without making a profit, although usually gaining a few free tablets for their own consumption. Then there are the dealers who are trusted as connoisseurs of the drug, and will describe the subtle qualities of the particular batch from personal experience. This type of dealer never sells to the public but only to regular clients who respect them, so the dealer cannot afford to provide poor quality.
Another variation, more common among working class men, is for friends to arrange a meeting place, usually a pub, before a rave. One person knows of a supply and collects money on behalf of the others, then returns with the drugs which cost each person less than if they had bought separately. This method carries more risk, either of losing your money or of getting poor quality. The person buying for the others also runs the risk of far greater penalties.
A more commercial form of supply is by individuals who buy 100 or so and are either ‘known’ at certain clubs, or go around offering them for sale. They may be honest, especially if they are known, but they may also be selling fake pills. A new trend is for ‘retail specialists’ to sell in a club or at a rave. These are organized gangs, but probably not part of a large syndicate. They cooperate with security staff or the promoters of raves and clubs. The club or rave organisers put on a show of heavy security, searching people on their way in so as to exclude dealers. This leaves the way open for the gang to sell inside. Some members go around asking people if they want to buy drugs without carrying stock themselves so that, if arrested, they will not be accused of ‘supply’ and may get off with a fine. The stock and money is carried by members who are well protected by body guards, and lookouts warn of police activity inside and outside the venue. They have contingency plans worked out in case of a surprise raid, for example members who are free of drugs might cause a fight so as to attract the attention of the police while those carrying drugs and money escape.
Punishment for Ecstasy Possession, Distribution or Manufacturing
MDMA is a controlled substance in Texas. Unlike a state such as California, which has not explicitly scheduled MDMA, but instead considers it as within its broad “controlled substance analogue” provisions, MDMA is an explicitly scheduled substance in Texas. MDMA has been placed it in “Group 2” of the Texas controlled substance hierarchy. (See Tex. Health & Safety Code, Sec. 481.103).
Punishment for Simple Possession of MDMA
The punishment for simple possession of MDMA in Texas is dependant upon the weight of the MDMA (See Tex. Health & Saf. Code, Sec. 481.116):
- Less than 1 gram = “state felony” with a mandatory minimum of 180 days in county jail up to 2 years and a fine of up to $10,000. (Tex Pen. Code, Sec. 12.35).
- 1 gram, but less than 4 grams = “felony 3rd degree” with a mandatory 2 year minimum, up to 10 years, and a fine of up to $10,000. (Pen. Code, Sec. 12.34.)
- 4 grams, but less than 400 grams = “felony 2nd degree” with a mandatory 2 year minimum, up to 20 years, and fine of up to $10,000 (Pen. Code, Sec. 12.33)
- 400 grams or more = mandatory 5 year minimum, with possible life imprisonment (Health & Saf. Code, Sec. 481.116)
Punishment for distributing or manufacturing MDMA, possessing it with the intent to distribute
Distributing or manufacturing MDMA, possessing it with the intent to distribute it is punishable as follows. (See Tex. Health & Saf. Code, Sec. 481.113):
- Less than 1 gram = “state felony ” with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in county jail up to 2 years and a fine of up to $10,000. (Tex Pen. Code, Sec. 12.35).
- 1 gram, but less than 4 grams = “felony 2nd degree” with a mandatory 2 year minimum, up to 20 years, and fine of up to $10,000 (Pen. Code, Sec. 12.33)
- 4 grams, but less than 400 grams = “felony 1st degree” with a mandatory 5 year minimum, up to possible life imprisonment and maximum $10,000 fine. (See Pen. Code, Sec. 12.32)
- 400 grams or more = mandatory 10 year minimum, with possible life imprisonment (Health & Saf. Code, Sec. 481.113)
Hire Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson
If you or your child has been arrested or charged with any crime involving ecstasy, you must act quickly. The drug laws are incredibly complex and difficult to navigate without the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Texas treats all Ecstasy crimes harshly. No one accused of an Ecstasy crime should attempt to handle their case without a good lawyer. The law provides the maximum possible sentence and it is up to your attorney to fight for your rights and work to improve your situation. At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we have successfully defended many types of drug charges throughout Texas and we can skillfully handle your Houston Ecstasy case.
Anyone under investigation for sales, possession, under the influence, manufacturing, trafficking, importing, distributing or transporting ecstasy can expect very serious penalties if convicted. At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we help clients who have been arrested for drug crimes involving ecstasy. Do not give up hope, even if you feel there may be solid evidence against you or a loved one, there are still many legal defenses that may help to have your charges minimized or dismissed entirely. Take advantage of the free initial consultation to discuss your options. The free consultation is an opportunity to discuss your case in detail and Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will answer any questions that you may have regarding your ecstasy charges.