Every time we walk into schools and universities to work with young people, the first question we ask of the teacher in charge is, “What do we need to know?” Inevitably the issue of drugs comes up – and the one most often mentioned, other than alcohol, is ecstasy.
We’re mums who founded the “Australian Teenage Expo” and have worked with young people for the last 17 years, predominantly secondary and university-aged students.
Drugs are obviously a worry for parents due to the potential for mental health and physical damage, but we are also seeing our children miss out on employment opportunities. They are not aware that when they post about their weekend indulgences on social media employers will search to see what the candidate does outside work. If they deem it unsuitable, they’re crossed off the list.
So what’s this drug all about and how do we know what to say to our kids? Ecstasy is commonly made up of a chemical called 3,4-Methylene Dioxy Meth Amphetamine (MDMA). There are many names for it including pills, pingerz, tic tacs, molly, bickies or eccys. Listen to the conversations your kids are having – they may be talking about bickies and they don’t mean a Scotch Finger!
Many tablets are found to contain very little MDMA and more additives like anti-anxiety drugs, nerve-numbing agents, morphine, anti-depressants, anaesthetic drugs, pain killers, horse sedative and even talcum powder. Lately we have the frightening addition of synthetic drugs bringing us to a new era of ecstasy. Synthetic ingredients added to mimic the effects of ecstasy are causing young people’s bodies to overheat at extreme temperatures, to experience severe violent reactions and seizures.
Most studies have concluded that ecstasy causes significant changes to the brain, in particular the part of the brain that releases and transports the neurotransmitter serotonin. Ecstasy works by causing the brain to release serotonin, which is an important chemical responsible for some critical functions like memory, sleep, temperature regulation, mood and muscle contraction.
The effects of ecstasy include an increase in heart rate, temperature and blood pressure, as well as increased confidence, anxiety and sweating. Higher doses can cause vomiting, convulsions, irrational and violent behavior, hallucinations, heart attack, stroke and extreme overheating, which can lead to death. Dehydration is common and so is 'water intoxication', where the user drinks too much water and their organs, particularly the brain, can swell causing them to shut down. After-effects can include depression, insomnia, lack of concentration and memory disturbances.
The best approach to harm prevention is to sip water. The Australian Drug Foundation recommends sipping 500ml per hour if active or 250ml per hour if inactive, wearing loose fitting clothing, taking regular breaks from dancing to prevent overheating and telling a friend if you start to feel unwell.
So what can we do? Educate ourselves. Google it if you don’t know. Don’t pretend to know what you’re talking about, teens can spot a fraud a kilometre away! Ask questions, don’t interrogate, just have a conversation. For example, “I heard this story in the news ... what do you know about it?”
The conversation with our teenagers about drugs has never been more important. Utilise any opportunity to connect with your child and make sure they have the knowledge and strategies they need to keep themselves safe.
Sonya Jarras and Sacha Kaluri are the authors of The Two Worlds of Your Teenager.