Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
A drug is defined as “any substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, relief, treatment or prevention of disease or intended to affect the structure or function of the body.” A simpler but workable definition of a drug is any chemical substance that affects the body and its processes.
“By law, drugs are divided into two categories: prescription drugs and non-prescription drugs,” explains The Merck Manual of Medical Information. “Prescription drugs – those considered safe for use only under medical supervision – may be dispensed only with a prescription from a licensed professional with governmental privileges to prescribe.”
Non-prescription drugs, on the other hand, are those considered safe for use without any medical supervision (like aspirin, for instance). Oftentimes, these drugs are sold over the counter.
To some people, the word “drug” means a substance that alters the brain’s function in ways considered pleasurable – a mind-altering substance. These are what the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) as “dangerous drugs” or “illegal drugs.”
Now, you may wonder why I am writing about drugs. It’s because I am just curious about the report of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which said that “Philippines remains an attractive (illegal) drug market” and described the country as “a transshipment point for the region.”
This is the reason, said a CNN news report, why banned substances are easy to find. “Street value of drugs in the country is among the cheapest in the region,” referring to Southeast Asia.
The street price of ecstasy, for instance, ranges from P1,000 to P1,500 per tablet, the CNN said.
In the first week of April this year, the Bureau of Customs seized various illegal drugs worth over P3 million in air parcels at different warehouses in Pasay City, according to a news report circulated by Philippine News Agency (PNA).
Among the confiscated drugs were 1,681 tablets of ecstasy, which were concealed inside a microwave oven. “Records showed the seized ecstasy was shipped from the Netherlands and consigned to a recipient in Quezon City,” PNA said.
In a recent buy-bust operation conducted by PDEA at Sea Eagle Beach Resort in Purok Manaklay, Barangay Pindasan of Mabini, Davao Oriental, among the illegal drugs that were obtained by the enforcers were nine plastic bots of liquid ecstasy.
“Ecstasy goes by the names E, Snackies, New Yorkers, and Molly. “The drug, usually made in illegal laboratories, consists of a range of substances that make it dangerous to consume,” said a primer of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “It comes in the form of tablet, powder or capsule and is usually swallowed, but could also be snorted or injected.”
It is a synthetic drug – known as 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) – that alters mood and perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions). “Ecstasy is chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens, producing feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and distorted sensory and time perception,” explains the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Initially, it was popular in the nightclub scene and at all-night dance parties. The popular nickname Molly (slang for “molecular”) often refers to the supposedly “pure” crystalline powder form of MDMA usually sold in capsules.
“However, people who purchase powder or capsules sold as Molly often actually get other drugs such as synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”) instead,” NIDA says. Some people take MDMA in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or marijuana.
Ecstasy is popular among young professionals as it increases the activity of three brain chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Dopamine, NIDA says, produces increased energy/activity and acts in the reward system to reinforce behaviors. On the other hand, Norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people with heart and blood vessel problems.
As for serotonin, it affects mood, appetite, sleep, and other functions. “It also triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust,” NIDA says. “The release of large amounts of serotonin likely causes the emotional closeness, elevated mood, and empathy felt by those who use MDMA.”
Other health effects of ecstasy include nausea, muscle cramping, involuntary teeth clenching, blurred vision, chills, and sweating.
According to UNODC, ecstasy clouds a user’s judgment, making them take more risks, for instance, having unsafe sex that could lead a person to contract sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
The effects last about three to six hours. Many users take a second dose as the effects of the first dose begin to fade.
Over the course of the week following moderate use of the drug, a person may experience the following: irritability, impulsiveness and aggression, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, memory, and attention problems, decreased appetite and decreased interest in and pleasure from sex.
Until now, research results vary on whether ecstasy is addictive. But some people report signs of addiction, including the following withdrawal symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and trouble concentrating.
There are also no specific medical treatments for ecstasy addiction. “Some people seeking treatment for MDMA addiction have found behavioral therapy to be helpful,” NIDA says. “Scientists need more research to determine how effective this treatment option is for addiction to MDMA.”