Drug a Hazard to the Body and Mind

Rick Nathanson, Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Journal
June 2, 2002

Ignacio Mireles, known as “Nacho” to his friends, had been doing the drug Ecstasy for two weeks when he encountered Larry Andy Jelks in the parking lot of a convenience store at Copper and Tramway NE.

Mireles had never met Jelks before, but he opened fire on him.

From the back seat of a car, Mireles shot Jelks seven times at point-blank range with at .25-caliber handgun, according to Albuquerque police detective Byron Samora.

“At least one of those shots was an execution-type shot, delivered after the victim was already shot and down on the ground,” Samora said.

In May, nearly two years after the fatal shooting, Mireles, 22, was found guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm enhancement and shooting from a motor vehicle causing great bodily harm. He faces up to 31 years imprisonment.

Mireles told police that he had been taking Ecstasy for the two weeks before the shooting, Samora said. In court, Mireles used an insanity defense, saying he was delusional because of his drug use.

“The jury didn’t buy it,” Samora said. “Voluntary drug use is not insanity, and it’s no excuse for murder.”

The case underscores one of the drug’s potential dangers: Ecstasy can cause profound physiological and psychological effects, and prolonged use can cause severe psychoses and delusional behavior, said Finn Selander, special agent and public information officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Albuquerque.

A long history

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, known by the street name Ecstasy, is not a new drug.

A history found on the Internet indicates that the German pharmaceutical company E. Merck received a patent in 1914 to produce it as an intermediary substance that might lead to other therapeutic drugs. Unable to do that, Merck stopped making it.

MDMA later surfaced in 1953, when the U.S. Army conducted research into drugs that might have toxic warfare applications. MDMA was among the drugs examined and rejected.

Underground chemists in the hippie days of the 1960s began producing it as a recreational – and legal – drug, and, by 1980, it was enjoying some “mainstream” use. That ended in 1985 when the government outlawed it.

MDMA targets the receptor sites in the brain where serotonin is stored, causing the sites to empty their reservoirs and bathe the brain in serotonin, Selander explained. MDMA also interferes with the receptor sites’ ability to reabsorb the serotonin.

Instant euphoria

Serotonin is the chemical primarily responsible for regulating mood. When the brain is suddenly flooded with serotonin, it causes the person to feel euphoric and uninhibited. MDMA also acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen.

Users feel a heightened sense of awareness, self esteem and personal insight. They also experience intensified sensations of taste, hearing, light and colors, and personal feelings toward others.

Serotonin also has a role in regulating body temperature, and overheating is the single biggest factor attributed to Ecstasy illness and death. It is also why regular users carry a water bottle and drink frequently.

The stimulant effect of Ecstasy also causes users to grind their teeth, which is why many suck on lollipops or on baby pacifiers, Selander said. Lollipops, pacifiers, water bottles and paper painters’ masks coated with Vicks VapoRub or Mentholatum to enhance odors, have become something of fashion statements at raves.

They are also items that parents can look for as indicators that their children may be experimenting with the drug, he said.

The effects from a single Ecstasy pill generally last four to six hours. People who attend raves sometimes take a second pill when effects from the first begin to wear off.

Because the receptor cells and the chemical balance in the brain are altered by Ecstasy, a period of depression is often reported in the days following use, Selander said. Chronic use can cause permanent damage to the receptor cells.

“You can actually damage your brain from taking Ecstasy one time. It’s been documented,” he said. “Everybody’s metabolism is different, and there’s no way to know which time you do it will be the one-too-many time that pushes you overt the edge. Will it be the first time? Will it be the 10th time?”

“Is it your time?”

On the Web

To learn more about Ecstasy and other drugs, as well as how to reduce drug usage and violence in the community, go to deatip.net