Christmas Eve, 1912: The pharmaceutical company
Merck files for a patent on MDMA ('ecstasy') as a precursor to a drug
hoped would be effective in controlling bleeding. Their patent application
is granted two years later (1914.) In spite of persistent rumors,
there is no evidence that they were aware it was psychoactive or intended
to market it as a product.
1927: Merck researchers perform some animal experiments,
noting that the substance had some similarities (in structure and effects)
1953-1954: The US Army conducts animal experiments
with MDMA and a number of structurally related drugs. What they hoped
to discover is unclear, but the research was labeled as sensitive and
not declassified until 1969. It seems likely they were seeking
new non-lethal chemical weapons or interrogation tools.
1959: Merck researchers again investigate
MDMA's potential use as a stimulant. There are rumors that it
was investigated as a drug to keep aviators alert, but no evidence
of human experiments has been found.
|Shulgin in his laboratory.
1965: Independently predicting that
MDMA might be psychoactive, a chemist named Alexander
MDMA while working at Dow Chemical, but does not try the substance.
Shulgin had made Dow a tidy sum of money with his prior work on a
and as his reward was allowed to pursue whatever field
of research appealed to him. Shulgin chose to study psychoactive
decision that would eventually impact the entire world.
1967: A student at the University of California/San
Francisco describes having taken MDMA to Shulgin. Eventually, Shulgin
tries the new drug himself...and is amazed.
1972: MDMA is seen in Chicago by police. Use is apparently slowly
spreading, but it remains a rather rare drug.
1977: A friend of Shulgin's, psychologist Leo
begins to prepare for retirement from his practice. While starting
out his office of memorabilia,
invites Shulgin over to see if the chemist would like any of the items.
Shulgin, in turn, brings him a gift: A small vial of MDMA, and a
that he might find the material worthwhile. Leo, who was
experienced with psychoactive drugs and had used them in his practice
some patients, accepted the gift without committing to whether or not
he might try it.
Several days later,
Shulgin receives a phone call from Leo. He has tried the MDMA. He no
longer wants to retire. Instead, he begins to utilize the new drug,
own practice, then introducing other therapists to it. The ability
of MDMA to help patients overcome emotional barriers was so striking
one psychiatrist dubbed it "penicillin for the soul." When
Dr. Zeff passed away years later, his widow estimated that
the network of therapists using MDMA had grown to about 4,000.
1984: All hell breaks loose. The growing networks
of therapists, chemists and users, which had managed to stay largely
below the radar of the government, becomes impossible to ignore when
Michael Clegg begins openly selling MDMA in Texas,
using advertising, a 1-800 number to place orders, and even offering
shipping. A former seminary student, Clegg considered himself an 'Ecstasy
missionary' (having given the drug that name himself) destined to
help bring MDMA to the public. At its peak, he was delivering half
a million pills a month to the Dallas area.
Responding to the crisis
of people being able to get high without risking arrest, the Drug
Enforcement Agency announced its intent to Emergency Schedule MDMA,
placing it into Schedule 1 (the most restrictive class of drugs,
such as heroin) for a year while it was decided how it should be
Shocked and angered by the DEA's plans
to completely ban access to a drug that had become an important and
of their practices, psychiatrists, therapists, and other scientists
and doctors challenged the Scheduling, resulting in government hearings
on how MDMA should be Scheduled.
1985: The hearings began. The DEA
appointed Judge Francis Young to hear the case. Months of testimony
and sometimes bitter argument
went by as the hearings dragged on through the summer, autumn and
1986: On May 22nd, Judge Young released his decision
on the laws, science, and use surrounding MDMA, declaring that MDMA
was safe when used under medical supervision, did not have a high potential
for addiction, and had legitimate medical use. As such, Judge Young
said, it was not legal to place MDMA higher than Schedule 3. This much
less restrictive category would have allowed doctors to continue to
use MDMA, but would have still made sale without a prescription illegal.
Angered by these findings, the DEA condemned
Judge Young as biased, shortsighted, and incorrect in his interpretation
of the laws. They rejected his non-binding ruling and declared MDMA
permanently Schedule 1.
Outraged by the DEA's attempts to re-write
the laws and ignore the science, the groups that had first challenged
the Scheduling of MDMA sued, taking the DEA to court.
1988: After several years of motions, hearings, and
angry debate, the doctors and scientists appeared to have achieved
victory: On January 27, the courts agreed with Justice Young's original
opinion and ordered the Drug Enforcement Agency to reassess its Scheduling
decision. In the meanwhile, MDMA is removed from Schedule 1, becoming
briefly legal once again.
The DEA, complying with the court order,
're-evaluated' their decision. And decided that they had been right
all along, and the doctors, scientists, and courts were the ones that
were wrong about the science and the law. They permanently declared
MDMA Schedule 1, taking effect on March 23, 1988.
Vindicated in their interpretation of
the law, in the science and in court but beaten down by sheer political
power, the doctors and scientists were defeated. The prohibitionist
bureaucrats had lost every battle but won the war, and MDMA has remained
in Schedule 1 since.
1991: Alexander Shulgin's legendary book, "PIHKAL"
is published, and the world discovers what 'Sasha' has been up to in
the past few decades. (The book's title is short for "Phenethylamines
I Have Known And Loved", a reference to the basic chemical
structure he based his work on.) The book itself is divided into
two parts: The
autobiographies of Alexander and his wife Ann; and a massive drug section
describing the structures, dosages, effects, and synthesis of
180 psychoactive drugs, most of which Shulgin had invented; many of
which were new to science. (The
section is available on-line.) Within the book were also glowing
descriptions of the effects of MDMA:
"I feel absolutely clean inside, and there
is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great, or believed
this to be possible. The cleanliness, clarity, and marvelous feeling
of solid inner strength continued through the rest of the day,
evening, and into the next day. I am overcome by the profundity of
Today, most of the psychedelic drugs
that have been prohibited in America were born in Shulgin's basement
laboratory, and his work continues to inspire the invention of even
more new drugs.
March, 2001: Alarmed by skyrocketing use of MDMA
and their own clear inability to stop it, the US government increases
penalties, making the distribution
of MDMA ten times more severely punished, dose for dose, than heroin. In
spite of being opposed by prominent scientists and even the former
head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse as irrational and a diversion
of resources from the control of truly dangerous
drugs, the measure passes easily.
November 2, 2001: Revenge of the Scientists. The
US Food and Drug Administration gives approval for human testing of
for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder to the Multidisciplinary
Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS, a group made up of many
the same doctors and researchers that had originally fought tooth-and-nail
to keep MDMA available to doctors, is conducting the research as part
of their plan to gain full FDA approval of MDMA as a prescription drug.
The next two years would prove to be a long, difficult struggle to
gain IRB approval (Institutional Review Board oversight is needed to
conduct human research.)
September 5, 2003: The infamous
MDMA researcher George Ricaurte, who's work had been the cornerstone
of MDMA prohibition and anti-MDMA government
ad campaigns, confesses:
One of his most recent and sensational studies, claiming that a "common
recreational dose" of MDMA could cause extensive
brain damage and Parkinson's-like symptoms never actually happened.
The monkeys used in the experiment had actually been given near-lethal
doses of methamphetamine; not MDMA!
September 23, 2003: With Ricaurte
"it'll eat holes in your brain" house of cards began to
come tumbling down; MAPS
was finally granted IRB approval for human research with MDMA.
April 6, 2004: The first dose of MDMA in MAPS' post-traumatic
stress disorder study is administered.
To support or get more information on
this ongoing research, visit MAPS on
the web. MAPS also maintains a
complete record of the Scheduling fight, including government documents,
testimony and court rulings.
Today, the placement of MDMA in Schedule
1 remains one of the most blatantly anti-science and anti-reason pieces
of government excess. Scheduling shows no signs of having actually
reduced usage and has driven the market into the hands of criminals,
simplistic anti-drug 'education' efforts ensure that young people don't
know what they need to know to stay safe when, inevitably, many of
choose to use drugs anyway.
MDMA prohibition will
inevitably be overturned, not because those of us that champion research
and personal freedom have a
political machine or even broad support. It will be overturned because
we are right. The science supports us, and the truth has a power of
its own. Like water and wind carving out the Grand Canyon, the truth
is a force of nature that can be opposed and delayed, but never stopped.
Whether in ten years or a hundred, the defeat of drug prohibition is
inevitable because prohibition is not rational; prohibition is a religion
built on ignorance and fear, not sound public policy. They only real
question is how
much money we can spend and how many lives we can destroy in the name
of the dark god Prohibition before this foolishness ends.