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The Invention of MDMA or Ecstasy

MDMA has the full chemical name of '3,4 Methylene-dioxy-N-methylamphetamine' or 'Methylenedioxymethamphetamine'. The 3,4 indicates the way in which the components of the molecule are joined together, as it is possible to produce an isomer which has all the same components but is joined differently. Although it is derived from organic material, MDMA itself does not occur in nature, and must be created in a complex laboratory process. There are various popular street names for MDMA such as Ecstasy, E, Adam, X and Empathy.

What is MDMA

It is a mood/mind altering drug and like Prozac works by effecting the chemical level of Serotonin in our brains, a 'neurotransmitter' naturally present in the brain which can alter our emotions. MDMA also adversely effects blood pressure and pulse rate. Chemically the drug is amphetamine like, but psychologically it's what's known as an empathogen-entactogen, empathogenic means the ability to communicate things to others or the ability to feel empathy towards others and entactogenic means feeling well or good with yourself and the world.

MDMA History

MDMA was patented in 1913 (patent #274.350) by the German chemical company Merck supposedly to be sold as a diet pill (the patent does not mention any intended use), the company decided against marketing the drug and had nothing more to do with it. The US army experimented with MDMA in 1953, possibly as truth serum, they have not revealed their reasons.

The man responsible for the modern research of MDMA is Alexander Shulgin, who after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in biochemistry landed a job as a research chemist with Dow Chemicals. Among his many achievements for Dow Chemicals was one profitable insecticide and several controversial patents for what were to become popular street drugs. Dow was happy with the insecticide but Shulgin's other projects created a parting of the way between the biochemist and the chemical company. Alexander Shulgin is also the first reported human to use MDMA.

Shulgin continued his legal research of new compounds after leaving Dow, specializing in the phenethylamines family of drugs. MDMA is but one of 179 psychoactive drugs which he described in detail, but it is the one which he felt came closest to fulfilling his ambition of finding the perfect therapeutic drug.

Since MDMA has already been patented in 1913, it holds no profit potential for a drug company. A drug cannot be patented twice and before marketing a new drug, a company has to show that the potential side effects are justified by the drug's benefits as a medicine, and this involves long and expensive trials. The only way of recouping that expense is by obtaining exclusive rights to sell the drug through holding its patent. Only a few experimental therapists researched and tested the drug (between 1977 to 1985) for use during psychotherapy sessions. Note: View MAPS article on current patent concerns.

In 1985, MDMA/Ecstasy received massive media attention when a group of people sued the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to try to prevent them from outlawing the drug by placing it on Schedule 1. The US Congress had passed a new law allowing the DEA to put an emergency ban on any drug that it thought might be a danger to the public. On July 1st 1985, this right was used for the first time to ban MDMA.

A hearing was held to decide what permanent measures should be taken against the drug. One side argued that MDMA caused brain damage in rats, the other side claimed this might not be true for humans and that there was proof of the beneficial use of MDMA as a drug treatment in psychotherapy. The residing judge after weighing the evidence, recommended that MDMA be placed on Schedule 3, which would have allowed it to be manufactured, used on prescription, and subject to further research. However, the DEA decided to place MDMA permanently on Schedule 1.

Trial research into the effects of MDMA on human volunteers resumed in 1993 with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The first psychoactive drug approved for human testing by the FDA.

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