What is MDMA?
MDMA, or 'ecstasy' is a 'psychedelic amphetamine' that has gained popularity over the past 20 years because of its ability to produce strong feelings of comfort, empathy, and connection to others. It most frequently comes in tablet form, although it is occasionally sold in capsules or as powder. It is most frequently used orally and rarely snorted. MDMA use is closely tied to the underground rave (and dance club) scene throughout the world, but has also been widely used by therapists as an adjunct to psychotherapy.
MDMA was first synthesized in 1912. It was patented in Germany by the Merck Company in 1914. At that time it was not the subject of human research. Merck stumbled across MDMA when they tried to synthesize Hydrastinin, a vasoconstrictive and styptic medicine. MDMA was an unplanned by-product of this synthesis. As usual, the process of its synthesis was patented.
In the 1950s it was briefly researched by the U.S. Government as part of the CIA's and the Army's chemical warfare investigations, a commissioned research in 1953/54 on MDA, MDMA and other substances as a truth serum. They proved to be unsuitable for this purpose. The results of this research were not published until 1973. The first reported recreational use was in the 1960s.
In the middle 1970s, it was rediscovered by the psychedelic therapy community and began to be used as an adjunct to psychotherapy by psychiatrists and therapists who were familiar with the field of psychedelic psychotherapy. In the early 1980s, the drug began to be used non-medically, under the name ecstasy. Its growing popularity led to it being made illegal in the United States in 1985 (and in the following years in most other countries) and its popularity has continued to increase since then.
3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic chemical that can be derived from an essential oil of the sassafras tree (safrole). Safrole, isosafrole, MDP-2-P, piperonal and beta-nitroisosafrole are the most commonly found precursors to MDMA.
This is a generalized feeling that all is right and good with the world. People on MDMA often describe feeling "at peace" or experiencing a generalized "happy" feeling. Also, common everyday things may seem to be abnormally beautiful or interesting.
Empathogenesis is a feeling of emotional closeness to others (and to one's self) coupled with a breakdown of personal communication barriers. People on MDMA report feeling much more at ease talking to others and that any hangups that one may have with regard to "opening up" to others may be reduced or even eliminated. This effect is partially responsible for MDMA's being known as a "hug drug" - the increased emotional closeness makes personal contact quite rewarding.
MDMA can significantly enhance (sometimes distort) the senses - touch, proprioception, vision, taste, smell. MDMAers can sometimes be seen running their hands over differently textured objects repeatedly, tasting and smelling various foods/drinks. This effect also contributes to the "hug drug" effect because of the novel feeling of running one's hands over skin and having one's skin rubbed by someone else's hands.
Moreover, other effects described to MDMA are: increase in energy (stimulation), forgiveness, increased awareness & appreciation of music, neurotically based fear dissolution.
The physical effects of usual doses of MDMA are subtle and variable: some users report dryness of mouth, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, nystagmus (eye wiggles), sweating, or nausea. Others report feelings of profound physical relaxation. At higher doses (overdoses), the physical effects of MDMA resemble those of amphetamines: fast or pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, restlessness, etc.
Many users report feeling extremely drained the day after MDMA use. This 'day after' effect means for many MDMA users that they need to plan 2 days for the experience: one for the peak experience and one recovery day, with very little planned. Many users also experience some level of post-MDMA depression, often starting on the second day after the experience and lasting for up to 5 days. A small percentage of users report depressive symptoms for weeks afterwards. Alternately, some users report feeling better than normal for a week or so after taking MDMA. The negative after-effects of taking MDMA appear to be worse with higher frequencies of use, higher dosages, and perhaps total lifetime usage.
Furthermore cardiac complications; hyperthermia/hyperpyrexia (overheating); hepatotoxicity and psychoses have incidentally occurred.
The cardiac complications all occurred among persons with already existing, though sometimes unidentified, cardiac problems.
Hyperthermia with all kinds of potentially lethal complications has been known for a long time as a rare complication of amphetamine overdose, probably based on an individual 'idiosyncratic' sensitivity.
Hepatotoxicity is a new phenomenon in relation to amphetamine like substances, but psychoses are well known as usually temporary complications in people who are predisposed toward them.
It should be obvious that, however dramatic these complications may be at the individual level, they are very rare if they are related to the estimated scale of XTC use.
Therapists who champion its use claim that for those using MDMA in a therapeutic setting, communication is enhanced and anxiety and defenses are eliminated. Initially the therapeutic community tried to keep the knowledge of this drug under wraps.
Despite protests by some members of the psychoanalytic community, it was classified controlled as a Schedule I (or Class A) drug in the US in 1985, although this did nothing to stem its rising tide of popularity as a street drug.
Researchers believe that MDMA may relieve the pain and emotional distress of terminal cancer patients and speed the recovery of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 'Between 1977 and 1985, roughly half a million doses were administered for the treatment of depression, anxiety, rape-related trauma, and even schizophrenia,' reports Richard Doblin, a doctoral student at Harvard University who leads the Multi disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research. He charges that 'politics over science' stifled proper funding and recognition of MDMA research thereafter.
What's more, he claims that in giving the signal for formal research on MDMA only now, the FDA has 'failed to recognize the successful results of the past.' So the drug must undergo 'lengthy and expensive testing in order to establish what we already know -- that MDMA is safe for clinical use.'
Studies to establish basic human safety are now under way at the University of California at Los Angeles by psychiatrist Charles Grob, M.D. The drug's effect on brain chemistry is also being examined. From the early nineties on studies have been focused on the abilities of MDMA to ease the anxiety of patients nearing death. Grob emphasizes that the aim of the treatment is in no way a physical cure to the disease. It is aimed more at easing feelings of depression and anxiety as patients get closer to death, he says.
MDMA has also proven to be helpful in treating persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Most research on this subject is under way in Switzerland, Spain, and Israel. The U.S., meanwhile, is hammering its science into armaments for the drug war.
Because MDMA is so popular and because it goes well with dance parties, the demand for it usually exceeds supply--especially at any given location on any given night. This creates an opening for unscrupulous individuals to sell virtually anything as 'ecstasy'. While 'ecstasy' is the popular name for MDMA, the functional definition of ecstasy is any pill represented as MDMA on the street. Ecstasy pills are notoriously unreliable in content, more so than most other street drugs, and commonly contain either caffeine, ephedrine, amphetamines, MDA, MDE, DXM, or--in rare cases--DOB, and don't necessarily contain MDMA or any psychoactive. This problem has led to the development of simple MDMA testing kits that may help give the user a general sense of the content of a pill. In some countries you can test your pills at parties or agencies without consequences.
A recreative dose contains between 1 and 2 mg MDMA per kilo bodyweight. This means for someone who has 60 kilos the dose is between 60 and 120 mg MDMA. Good pills do, according to Erowid, contain 80 - 120 mg MDMA.
A large percentage of users find that, unlike with many other psychoactives such as LSD or mushrooms, there is a 'sweet spot' in MDMA dosage. Once this spot is found, higher dosages are not particularly desirable as they don't increase the sought after effects or duration.
Effects last from 4 - 6 hours, depending on the amount of the drug taken, its strength, purity, your body weight and physical and psychological makeup. MDMA is a mood elevator that produces feelings of empathy, openness and well-being. It does not produce violence or physical addiction.
LSD: Known as candyflipping. MDMA also decreases chances for a bad trip. Most prefer quite low doses of LSD and staying at home.
Amphetamine (speed): To keep up energy through the night and prolong the experience at relatively low cost. Could easily give an overexcited, speedy feeling, with less control.
Alcohol: Drowns the effect of ecstasy. Alcohol and amphetamine also taxes the liver and kidneys, causing dehydration, so taking either or both of these in combination with MDMA is likely to increase the danger of overheating and result in worse after effects.
2CB: Sometimes taken near the end of the trip. As it takes over from the MDMA, the experience is subtly changed towards a more intellectual viewpoint from which some people find it easier to assimilate any insights gained. 2CB also has the reputation of providing the erotic component usually suppressed by MDMA.
In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), resulting in liver, kidney, and cardiovascular system failure. This is potentially lethal in hot environments where there is vigorous dancing and the lack of adequate fluid replacement.
Because MDMA can interfere with its own metabolism (breakdown within the body), potentially harmful levels could be reached by repeated drug use within short intervals.
Users of MDMA face many of the same risks as users of other stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. These include increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory problems or heart disease, and other symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Persons with known cardiovascular or heart disease should not take MDMA. Also persons who suffered from liver impairments, Hepatitis A or B must avoid MDMA use; one single dose could be fatal.
Avoid taking ecstasy if you're on anti-depressants and do not combine with MAOI's.
Links / Further reading
E is for ecstacy by Nicholas Saunders (online version)
A rough guide to ecstacy - Reproduced from The Book of E by Push and Mireille Silcott
This article is based on the following pages:
Uit je bol - Chapter 5: Ecstacy (in Dutch)