by Jack Linderoth


MDMA—more commonly known as ecstasy—is one of the world’s most popular recreational drugs. According to Parrot (2001) 2, “Over the past 15 years, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or Ecstasy has become one of the most popular of the illicit recreational drugs. Its use is strongly associated with the dance-club scene, with 64% of Dutch ravers/clubbers reporting they had taken it the previous night”. Such wide spread use begs the question of what the affects of such use are. He goes on to note, “The popularity of MDMA/Ecstasy is due to its very positive effects upon mood and well-being: ‘‘All I wanted to do was smile, I was so wide awake, and I felt in love for everything and everyone’’ . . . ‘‘Very intense. I felt as if nothing could go wrong or make me unhappy’’ . . . ‘‘touching was wonderful. Kissing was great. I kissed someone I was in love with and almost felt as if I was going to pass out from the intensity’’ (quotations from American clubbers in: Cohen, 1998, pp. 80–81).” The physiological effects on consumers are attributed to dopamine release.

Another point Parrot makes is, “the overall psychological effects (included positive moods) were related to 5-HT release, whereas the stimulant/euphoric effects were related to dopamine. MDMA has been recommended for use in psychotherapy, where the surge of pleasant feelings and emotional insights are said to be beneficial (Greer and Tolbert, 1998).” He goes on the say “However, not every Ecstasy experience is positive, with 25% of users reporting having had at least one adverse reaction, when unpleasant feelings and bodily sensations predominated (Davison and Parrott, 1997).”

Burgess wrote in the European psychiatry Journal (2000)[1] on the chemistry of the drug, “MDMA is structurally related to MDA and MDEA, or “Eve”. All three cause euphoria and are drugs of abuse similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and to the hallucinogen mescaline [10]. Four biotransformation pathways of MDMA have been identified in the rodent: N-demethylation, O-dealkylation, deamination and conjugation [28]. MDA may be formed by MDMA N-demethylation. Demethylenation of MDMA yields dihydroxymethylamphetamine (DHMA) [60]. This is a major metabolic pathway of MDMA metabolism and it is catalysed by cytochrome P450 in the liver and brain.”

Durgess continues on with more biological effects of the drug by stating, “In the acute phase hyperthermia, locomotor hyperactivity, salivation, mydriasis and piloerection occur: this is consistent with a sympathomimetic response. Ataxia and abnormal limb movements are also seen and at higher doses seizures may occur. This phase is characterised biochemically by marked depletion of serotonin, which returns to normal within 24 hours. The hyperthermic response depends on the ambient temperature and can be attenuated by the addition of certain drugs (e.g., chlormethiazole, haloperidol), or by transferring the animal to a lower ambient temperature.
It is interesting to note here that periods of ‘rest’ and rehydration have been recommended for those who dance at ‘rave’ events, in order to reduce the risk of hyperthermia. The hyperthermia and the locomotor hyperactivity are considered to be related to altered serotonergic function, and many of these features resemble the ‘serotonin syndrome’ noted in humans. The most frequent clinical features of this syndrome are changes in mental status, restlessness, myoclonus, hyperreflexia, diaphoresis, shivering and tremor.

As for the chemistry of MDMA, there are a few ways of synthesizing it. The key ingredient is known as Safole which is an oil that comes from the sassafras plant. Once the Safole oil is rendered, it needs to be nitrated. Once nitrated, the NO2 group is oxidized to a carbonyl and an amine is added though a Raney Ni reaction.

[1]European Psychiatry
Volume 15, Issue 5, August 2000, Pages 287-294
Agony and ecstasy: a review of MDMA effects and toxicity
C. Burgess, A O’Donohoe and M. Gill

2Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Volume 71, Issue 4, April 2002, Pages 837-844
Recreational Ecstasy/MDMA, the serotonin syndrome, and serotonergic neurotoxicity
A. C. Parrott,

3Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Volume 76, Issue 1, 5 October 2004, Pages 55-62
Impulsivity, risk taking and recreational ‘ecstasy’ (MDMA) use
G. K. L. Butler, and A. M. J. Montgomery

4Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Volume 74, Issue 3, 11 June 2004, Pages 245-252
Psychosocial profiles of older adolescent MDMA users
Lynn T. Singer , Teresa J. Linares, Shana Ntiri, Racquel Henry and Sonia Minnes

5European Neuropsychopharmacology
Volume 10, Issue 4, July 2000, Pages 289-295
Acute psychological and physiological effects of MDMA (“Ecstasy”) after haloperidol pretreatment in healthy humans
Matthias E. Liechti and Franz X. Vollenweider

6European Psychiatry
Volume 16, Issue 2, March 2001, Pages 127-130
Subjective effects of MDMA (‘Ecstasy’) on human sexual function
Z. Zemishlany, D. Aizenberg and A. Weizman