The varieties of ecstatic experience: an exploration
of the subjective experiences of ecstasy

Sumnall HR, Cole JC, Jerome L.
Centre for Public Health,
Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK.
J Psychopharmacol. 2006 Jan 9


Previous investigations of the subjective effects of MDMA (material sold as ecstasy) have conducted interviews and surveys of various groups of ecstasy users within particular sub-populations. This study examined subjective drug effects reported by different sub-populations of ecstasy users and explored whether the function or purpose served by using ecstasy influenced the nature of the drug experience. Drawing on previous measures of alterations in consciousness, psychedelic drugs and cannabis, and informal interviews with ecstasy users and MDMA researchers, a 130-item survey assessing subjective effects of ecstasy/MDMA was developed. Principal components analysis of responses of ecstasy users revealed six components; perceptual alterations, entactogenic effects, prosocial effects, aesthetic effects, negative effects and sexual effects. The derived scale was used to predict ecstasy use behaviours, and functions and experiences of use. A variety of component scores were related to ecstasy use parameters; in particular, heavier users expected fewer negative, perceptual and aesthetic effects from taking the drug. The reasons given for using ecstasy (use function) also influenced reported drug effects. Abstainers expected greater negative, perceptual, aesthetic and sexual effects than users. These data indicate that the subjective ecstasy experience is influenced by a variety of extra-psychopharmacological factors. Drug intervention strategies may be made more effective by targeting particular user groups defined by reasons given for substance use, as it is likely that their experiences of ecstasy effects will differ. Future research into ecstasy may be improved by recognizing user diversity.

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