Source: Saunders, Nicholas. E is for Ecstasy.
"Speaking of peanuts, you know what else is bad for squirrels?
Ecstasy is the worst drug in the world
If someone offers it to you, don't do it
Kids 2 hits'll probably drain all your spinal fluid
Cause spinal fluid is final, you won't get it back
So don't get attached, it'll attack every bone in your back"
- Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP: "The Kids"
MDMA (N-methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyphenylisopropylamine) was originally patented in 1913 by the German company Merck Pharmaceuticals, intended as an appetite suppressant. However, it was never marketed and the patent doesn't mention any uses. The next time it came to light was in 1953, when the US army tested a number of drugs for military applications. It is rumored that the CIA experimented with MDMA as a truth serum for facilitating interrogations, but there is not sufficient evidence for this.
The father of MDMA - or 'stepfather' as he describes himself - is Alexander Shulgin, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. The son of Russian emigres, Shulgin first became interested in the power of mind-altering chemicals when he was given morphine for an injured hand. Later, as a young biochemist, he experimented with mescaline and became fascinated by psychedelic drugs. While working for Dow Chemicals, he invented a profitable insecticide, and was rewarded with the opportunity to research anything he wanted. He set about synthesizing and testing psychedelic chemicals on the most reliable guinea-pig he could find - himself! An accepted test for psychedelic effects was to observe how fighting fish change their behavior. But there were problems: fish don't tell you when they are under the influence and, well, have you ever seen a fish that doesn't look stoned? Shulgin's solution was to 'suck it and see'.
Eventually his company was embarrassed to find themselves holding the patents of some popular street drugs and he was politely given the push. Shulgin continued testing new compounds on himself and a select group of friends for many years. Thanks to his remarkable personality - combining openness without proselytising about his liberal and controversial views - he has earned the respect of influential people and is able to carry on with his research today, with the full approval of the US government. His approach to psychedelics is similar to that of a botanist: he specialises in the phenethylamines, and delights in recording the subtle differences between each member of that family of drugs. His experiences are described in his autobiography Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved. MDMA is but one of 179 psychoactive drugs which he describes in detail, and, although its effects are less dramatic than many, MDMA is perhaps the one which comes closest to fulfilling his ambition of finding a therapeutic drug. Shulgin has now moved on to writing a book about another family of psychoactive drugs, the tryptamines, due out in 1995.
It is impossible to ever know the true breadth of therapeutic MDMA usage achieved during the remaining years of his life. However, at Shulgin's memorial service, an old friend of his was asked whether she had a guess at the number of people Shulgin had introduced to MDMA, either directly or indirectly. She was silent for a moment, then said, 'Well, I've thought about that, and I think probably around four thousand, give or take a few.' Those first psychotherapists to use MDMA were keenly aware that they had found a valuable new tool. As one put it, "MDMA is penicillin for the soul, and you don't give up prescribing penicillin, once you've seen what it can do". They were equally aware that if MDMA became a popular street drug, it could follow in the footsteps of LSD and be criminalized by the US government. They agreed to do as much informal research as possible without bringing the drug to public attention, and did pretty well - MDMA only gradually became known as a fun drug and it wasn't until 1984 that the bubble burst.
Those years 1977 to 1985 are looked back on as the 'golden age' of Ecstasy or Adam as it was then known. In psychotherapy, its use only appealed to a few experimental therapists since it didn't fit in with the usual 50-minute psychotherapy session, but they did include some of the most dynamic people in the field, including some who claimed that a five hour Adam session was as good as 5 months of therapy. There was also a select a group of 'explorers' who used the drug in various ways, but, surprisingly, they never discovered its potential as a dance drug.
Ecstasy was first brought to Europe by the disciples of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the controversial Indian millionaire guru. In spite of the cult's strict anti-drugs policy, the Bhagwan had adopted this new spiritual elixir, and his army of orange people evangelically distributed it to his centers around the world. Ecstasy gathered popularity exponentially. In Europe and the States, most users preferred to trip at home with friends. In Britain, the lively music scene fertillized a dynamic "rave" culture, which eventually spread beyond our borders in the early Nineties. At its height, it was estimated that a million pills were swallowed by British kids every weekend.
The designer drug "Ecstasy," or MDMA, causes long-lasting damage to brain areas that are critical for thought and memory, according to research findings in the June 15, 1999 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. In an experiment with red squirrel monkeys, researchers at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated that 4 days of exposure to the drug caused damage that persisted 6 to 7 years later. These findings help to validate previous research by the Hopkins team in humans, showing that people who had taken MDMA scored lower on memory tests. The images to the right are PET scans. Whiteness indicates mental activity. The top image is a normal monkey brain. The bottom image is a monkey brain on ecstasy. lolz.
1999 brought the first concrete evidence that ecstasy is harmful. However, ecstasy was entirely legal in the US from 1974 until 1986 ... and all those users are now screwed. This is because in almost all countries except the UK, new drugs are foolishly regarded as 'innocent until proved guilty', rather than 'guilty until proven innocent'.
There is also no evidence that ecstasy drains your spinal fluid.
The synthetic drug "ecstasy," which has been used increasingly among college students and young adults in recent years, also is being used at relatively high levels by America's 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, according to NIDA's 1996 Monitoring the Future study. Nearly 5 percent of 10th and 12th graders and about 2 percent of 8th graders said they had used MDMA in the past year, the study reported.