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Merck Pharmaceuticals digs the lost history of MDMA (Ecstasy) out of their archives (8/23/06)
It's become conventional wisdom among a lot of people that MDMA was originally developed as an appetite suppressant. There was never any evidence to support such claims, but that hasn't stopped them from popping up in even respectable research journals. Perhaps taking a new interest in what may become a commercially valuable drug, Merck, the company that first created MDMA in 1912, has gone through their own records to find out what exactly they did create the substance for.
Nobody knew MDMA was a psychoactive drug at first. Instead, they created what would eventually become 'ecstasy' as an insignificant intermediate chemical used to manufacture other, potentially useful medications to control bleeding.
In 1927, a Merck researcher rediscovered MDMA, noting that it had a structural similarity to adrenaline. Animal experiments were performed, but the details have been lost beyond some notes that MDMA was somewhat toxic and promoted muscle contraction, etc. His investigation was apparently brief, noting that the chemicals needed to produce MDMA were expensive and it's potential use as a stimulant was intriguing but unproven.
In 1952 MDMA appeared again at Merck in the form of a brief note that flies exposed to the substance became unconscious, then died.
In 1959, an investigation into MDMA's potential use as a stimulant was again undertaken, but the details have been lost. The first human tests may have occurred in 1959 or shortly thereafter. Thirteen years later, MDMA was discovered being sold as a drug in Chicago.