Ecstasy users are increasingly young adults with higher education, study finds

The proportion of ecstasy users with a college degree has increased, according to new research published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“I’ve been researching ecstasy use since my own party days,” remarked study author Joseph J. Palamar of New York University Langone Medical Center. “Ecstasy has been the most popular ‘club drug’ for decades, yet many national surveys show use has declined, despite the popularity of ‘Molly’. This is one of many recent papers in which I examine trends in ecstasy use to help inform prevention and harm reduction.”

The study examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual nationwide survey of individuals ages 12 and older in the United States.

Overall, the prevalence of ecstasy use remained relatively stable. From 2007 to 2014, about 2.2% to 2.6% of Americans reported using ecstasy within the last year.

But there was a change in the demographics of ecstasy users. The study uncovered a shift toward young adults with a higher education. The proportion of ecstasy users ages 18–34 with a college degree more than doubled from 2007 to 2014.

The proportion of young ecstasy users (ages 12–17) decreased by 42.9% between 2007 and 2014.

“Demographics of ecstasy users appear to be changing, and this should be considered when tailoring prevention and harm reduction messages to those who are most likely to use,” Palamar told PsyPost. “Most ecstasy users are college-educated and such individuals may not be receptive to typical scare tactics in anti-drug prevention messages.”

The study relied on self-reports and could therefore be providing an underestimate of the prevalence of ecstasy use.

“I, personally, don’t believe that only 2% of individuals in the US have used ecstasy in the past year. I believe a lot of people underreport use because they don’t know Molly is ecstasy. Poisonings and deaths related to ecstasy use appear to have increased, so I really think there has been underreporting of use in recent years.”

Seven out of ten ecstasy users reported using at least 2 other drugs in the past year.

But Palamar warned that many users who think they’re consuming pure MDMA could actually be ingesting other more dangerous substances.

“Ecstasy — particularly in powder form — is becoming increasingly adulterated with dangerous drugs such as ‘bath salts’. A lot of users think they’re using ecstasy or MDMA, but they’re actually using very different drugs without realizing it,” he explained.

“It kills me every time I hear about the latest ecstasy-related death in the news. Most of these deaths are largely due to adulterants or very high-dose pills. We didn’t have so many deaths like this back in my club days when ecstasy was supposedly much more prevalent.”

“Users and potential users need to know how to reduce harm if they insist on using,” Palamar said. “Users need better education and those who insist on using need to test their ecstasy to make sure it’s actually MDMA and not new chemicals like ‘bath salts’. We’re finding drugs like ‘Flakka’ in hair samples of ecstasy users and these users have no idea they’ve been using such dangerous drugs that are mixed in with their Molly.”

The study, “Shifting characteristics of ecstasy users ages 12–34 in the United States, 2007–2014“, was also co-authored by Pia M. Mauro, Benjamin H. Han, and Silvia S. Martins.