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Why do people suck on lollipops and chew so much when they take ecstasy?

“Some of my friends take ecstasy and when I go out with them, particularly if we’re at a party, they will often suck on a lollipop or chew lots of gum when they’re out of it. Why do you chew so much when you’ve taken pills?”

This is a great question but its not that easy to answer. Footage from within nightclubs, dance parties or raves inevitably shows patrons chewing wildly or sucking on some sort of lollipop (you even see some partygoers using pacifiers or ‘dummies’, although this is much more common overseas than it is in Australia).  So why do you chew on drugs like ecstasy and are there any harms linked to this behaviour?

Ecstasy, like speed and ice, are stimulants.  These drugs speed up activity in the central nervous system causing adrenaline to surge through your body.  This gives the user lots of energy and often enables them to dance long into the night – this is one of the main reasons why stimulant drugs are so popular amongst those involved in the dance scene.

Stimulants also cause you to talk a lot (often about nothing!) and it is believed that it is this excess adrenaline in your body that makes users grind their teeth (a condition known as ‘bruxism’) and clench their jaw. All stimulants cause this effect to some extent (certainly not everyone experiences this effect – remember, different drugs affect different people in different ways) and so when you attend a dance event or go to a nightclub and people have taken these drugs there is usually a great deal of chewing occurring!  This can become very uncomfortable for the user (as well as making them look very unattractive – sometimes people can be totally unaware that they are pulling very strange faces when they have taken these drugs!) and give them an aching jaw. In addition, it is also believed that these drugs can also act as a low-level anaesthetic, causing the user not to feel the damage they may be causing to the inside of their mouth by biting the inside of your mouth and tongue.

Chewing gum and lollipops are effective way of reducing this amount of damage to some extent.  However, you need to be aware that excessive chewing or sucking can also cause damage.  How many people do you know that have bitten down on an almost non-existent piece of chewing gum only to find their tongue or lip in the way?  I recall one incident at a Medical Tent I was working on when a young man ran in extremely distressed – he had taken an ecstasy pill and had coughed up some blood.  He was convinced he had internal bleeding.  When he was checked over he had actually bitten the inside of his mouth and had not felt himself doing it due to the anaesthetic effect of the drug!

Possibly one of the safer ways of using up the excess adrenaline is by sucking on icy poles or ice cubes.  These are not as abrasive as lollipops and rarely cause cuts. Remember that cuts inside the mouth or on the tongue are cause for concern and need to be considered, particularly in relation to sexual behaviour.

Of course, the best way to avoid this problem is not to use these drugs, but that will not be an option for some people. At the very least, try not to mix stimulants, including caffeine energy drinks as these are likely to add to the effect.

First published: May 2015

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