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The History of Ecstasy

When it comes to the history of ecstasy we must first understand what it is. Methylenedioxymethylamphetamine or MDMA, most commonly referred to as ecstasy, is a common club drug which causes euphoria and other stimulant effects. It is most often sold in pill form and most of the versions of the drug that can be found on the streets tend to be impure.

Ecstasy was originally created by accident for pharmaceutical company Merck by two scientists called Mannish and Jacobsohn. MDMA was created to help control bleeding being a vasoconstrictor. It was also thought to be good for weight loss. The patent for MDMA was granted to Merck in the year 1914. Around ten years later researches started experimenting with animals and noted that MDMA had some very similar qualities to those of adrenaline. This is when the history of ecstasy really starts.

In the 1950s, the CIA had a project called MK-Ultra. This project was investigating new truth-telling and brain-washing techniques with several similar drugs including LSD and scopolamine. Unlike these drugs, however, MDMA was only used on animals like pigs, mice and dogs.

For about fifteen years, the drug remained in relative obscurity. Nobody knows who the first person that that took MDMA was. In 1965, renowned researcher Alexander Shulgin synthesized MDMA but he did not try using the substance. Only two years later Marrie Kleinman, a graduate student under his supervision, tells him that she tried it. He starts to do taste tests on the drug with increasing doses and records his findings in a notebook. He reported feeling "clean inside" while feeling great euphoria. In his notebook, Shulgin wrote that he was "overcome by the profundity of the experience"

Doctor Shulgin wrote a paper on MDMA along with Doctor David Nichols. This paper introduced the drug to a wider scientific community and it was accepted by many psychiatrists as a new revolutionary form of treatment in the field of psychotherapy. Around this time Britain changed its drug policy. Class An included all amphetamines. In the United Kingdom, Class An is the most heavily controlled drug class there is. That same year, ecstasy started to become available as a street drug.

By 1980 MDMA was being used in many mental health practices around the United States. At this time, the drug started being referred to as Adam because it was intended to take patients back to a state of innocence. Although many psychiatrists and psychotherapists were using the drug at the time they did so discreetly.

The term ecstasy was first used by a distribution center in Los Angeles. The name ecstasy was handpicked over the name empathy. There was a backlash from a community that thought renaming the drug was manipulative.

In Texas in particular the production and use of ecstasy were on the rise. It was easily available on nights out in beer pubs, bars and nightclubs. It could be purchased by cash or credit card. A 1-800 number was available to fulfill the users' needs. A small bottle of it could be found and bought at the pharmacy and supermarkets under the name Sassyfras.

The Drug Enforcement Agency reacted by attempting to make ecstasy completely illegal. MDMA becomes a schedule one drug for a certain amount of time before it is decided which schedule it should be permanently put in. Many doctors and health care professionals become very angered and worried at the fact that what they consider to be a very valuable psychiatric resource is being taken away from them and decided to challenge the scheduling of MDMA in front of a court of law.

In 1985, the case was presented to Judge Francis Young. The process takes nearly a year to complete before the judge rules that MDMA is safe to be used under medical supervision. He also declared that MDMA was not a highly addictive drug and thus it should remain in schedule three. This meant that doctors could prescribe it but any other means of getting it, selling it or distributing it in general would be illegal.

The Drug Enforcement Agency condemned the ruling as inadequate and placed MDMA in schedule one permanently. That same year, the doctors that had challenged the first scheduling of the drug sued to the DEA. The lawsuit did not go anywhere as MDMA remained a schedule one drug permanently.

That same year raves started to become a mainstay of a small Spanish island called Ibiza. Ibiza is now commonly known in the United Kingdom as XTC Island. Due to its proximity to the United Kingdom many English tourists attended these parties and took the drug back home with them. In The Summer of Love in 1988 many tablets of ecstasy are taken. Only a year before, in 1987 the first death attributed to ecstasy happens. This causes moral outrage and panic in the United Kingdom. English 'ravers' start moving stateside to San Francisco and Los Angeles. MDMA goes full circle and starts being a popular party drug in the United States.

By 2001, The United States government, particularly the DEA, is very worried about the spike in the use of ecstasy. To counteract this it makes the punishment for using it and distributing it much more severe than that faced by heroin user and distributors. That same year The Food and Drug Administration approves human testing of MDMA for patients with PTSD and a number of other mental health problems.

Because of the difficulty in getting ecstasy it starts to become more and more impure. It is mostly manufactured and produced in the Netherlands and Belgium and is created with many varying recipes. Ecstasy pills are by now very impure with only 15% of them having MDMA as their only active chemical.

Ecstasy is no longer schedule one. It is now schedule two. This means that it can be used for research when it comes to psychiatry. In its current form, because of where it comes from and the very high likelihood that it is not one hundred percent pure, there is a certain amount of danger attached to it.