How women are more at risk when taking MDMA
It interacts with our body’s chemistry differently
From Between the Lines: what you really need to know about drugs, a special report by The Tab.
MDMA is stronger than ever, and while deaths are rare, the number has quadrupled in the last five years. Alarmingly, the number of female deaths in particular is on the rise – at least ten young women have died from taking the drug already this year, opposed to last year’s four. According to the recent Global Drugs Survey, women are two to three times more likely to seek emergency treatment than men, and scientists are attributing this to our biology.
Yesterday, an inquest at Winchester Coroner’s Court heard Olivia Christopher was killed as a result of fatal levels of MDMA and sleeping pill etizolam in her body. She was found dead in her tent last August at Boomtown, after taking a “wide range” of drugs, with reports showing the fatal level of MDMA in her body was four mg of blood per litre, while etizolam was 0.451 mg per litre. Just two days ago, a girl died after taking ecstasy in a Newcastle club and in May this year, 18-year-old Faye Allen died after taking her first ever pill at Warehouse Project in Manchester.
Data shows women are more susceptible to the harmful effects of the drug, not because of body weight, but the way it interacts with the female body’s chemistry.
Founder of the Global Drugs Survey Adam Winstock told The Guardian ecstasy is more harmful to women due to hormones. Because of oestrogen, women are more likely to suffer brain swelling after taking it. Ecstasy makes your body hold onto water, causing cells to swell, which damages the brain. Cells have pumps on them to remove this excess water, however oestrogen can stop them from functioning, making women more at risk.
Adam said: “What I would say to female ecstasy users is that you need to more careful than men. Women appear to be more at risk of harm.
“Everyone has to be careful, but I think women need to pay extra attention to things like how much they are using, how they are mixing, where they are and who they’re with.”
So what’s the solution? “A common argument here is in favour of legalisation, but I don’t think it would help,”toxicologist Dr John Ramsey said. “After all, the law disapproves of MDMA because it kills people.
“It would make it less likely that people got unexpectedly strong tablets, sure, but it wouldn’t stop people taking too many – just like the law doesn’t stop people drinking too much. Legalising it would increase the consumption almost certainly, so probably more people would die – and who’s going to make a legal tablet that kills 50 people a year?
“What we need is to give people practical casualty avoidance advice, but it’s difficult to do that without sounding preachy. The sensible advice is obviously don’t take ecstasy – but this is the real world, and people are going to.
“If you’re going to take it, then the main thing is to be prepared for the possibility that you’re going to get a pill which is much stronger than you wanted or anticipated. You don’t know how much ecstasy there is in the tablet, so the issue is what you can do about that.
“So be cautious. Take half a tablet, or a quarter of a tablet, and if you’re OK after half an hour or so then take a bit more. That way, if you’ve been given a tablet with 300mg in it, you’ll finish up taking a relatively safe dose.
“There’s also the same advice we we’ve been giving for 20 years – keep cool, drink plenty of water, try not to overheat. There’s definitely an association with heat and MDMA toxicity: it’s more toxic if you’re hot than if you’re not.
“Importantly, look after your mates. If you feel unwell, or if your friend feels unwell, do something about it. Don’t ignore it.”