Site LogogDrug InformationProhibitionVideosAbout TheDEA.orgSearchg

 

 

 

Seized by police: A batch of "Mitsubishi" logo Ecstasy pills. Once highly respected, the brand's reputation was quickly undermined by inferior, sometimes dangerous copycats.

 

Is it 'E'?

Lucky Girl: An Australian scientist holding a vial of MDMA powder. Like most drugs, MDMA is a white powder when pure.

 

     One significant problem faced by MDMA ("Ecstasy") users is the uncontrolled quality of pills. Sometimes the pills contain something along with the MDMA (such as ephedra, caffeine, etc) or they don't contain MDMA at all (methamphetamine, etc.) In one particularly horrific case, a criminal group produced a batch of a drug called PMA and sold it as MDMA, causing an estimated twenty deaths worldwide (2000). How does a user protect themselves?

     The first line of defense is pill testing sites, such as EcstasyData.org, which you can send a pill to for analysis; the site puts pictures and analysis results of the pills on-line. The advantage of this system is that if you have a pill of a certain color and logo you can look it up and see what similar pills contained (or if you buy a batch of pills, you can send one in and find out specifically what's in that batch.) The testing lab charges over $100 per pill; this fee used to be paid completely by donations through groups like Dancesafe, but the high cost of the program led to it's demise.  If you want them to test a pill for you now, you'll have to pay the considerable lab fee yourself. With the failure of funding for EcstasyData.org, the best resource for getting some idea of what a given pill contains is Pill Reports, which isn't very scientific (it's based on user's reports and can be subject to BS like dealers/producers trying to 'chat up' the quality of the latest batch) but is very dynamic and covers far more pills than EcstasyData.org.

     The problem is that even pills with the same color and logo can contain different drugs. Maybe the manufacturer changed what they were making. Maybe a competitor decided to take advantage of a brand's good reputation by using the design themselves.

     Beyond the serious analytical labs, you can also test your pills yourself. Groups like Dancesafe have an excellent test kit for home use. The full kit costs $45 (shipping included). The instructions may look a little intimidating, but all you have to do is scrape a little bit of the pill off onto a plate and put a couple drops of the test chemical on it. The sample will turn different colors depending on what's in it.  A European company called EZ-Test also sells popular test kits.

     The limitation of the home test kits is that they usually can't identify multiple drugs within the same pill. They can tell you if a pill contains MDMA, but not whether or not it also contains methamphetamine, etc.

     Pill appearances vary widely, and are determined solely by the tastes of the maker.  Coloring is often added, either throughout the entire pill or as granules of colored binders to create speckles of color. (Binders are chemicals that just add size and help hold the pill together. 'Ecstasy' pills are usually about 75% binders by weight.) It has been claimed that different colored specks in a pill are different drugs, but there is no basis for these rumors; the specks are simply added for appearances.

 

What Might Be in a Pill?

 

MDMA: The real 'ecstasy', and what you're probably looking for.

MDA: This cousin of MDMA is very similar in affects, but has been described as 'more psychedelic' and often produces distinct visuals (people have reported seeing smoke rings, faces appearing in clouds, etc.) MDA has become more common in recent years, with some people actually prefering it over MDMA. The test kit can determine if a pill contains MDA instead of MDMA. (Pills containing a mixture of MDMA and MDA are somewhat common.)

MDEA: Rarely seen, MDEA is another cousin of MDMA. It produces euphoria but seems to be relatively sedating (people just sitting around feeling good, not prone to dancing and animated conversation as you would expect with MDMA.) MDEA is pleasant in its own right, but lacks the 'fire' of the MDMA experience. The test kits cannot distinguish between MDMA and MDEA.

Methamphetamine: METH is a powerful and relatively dangerous stimulant drug. The home test kits can identify pills that contain METH by itself, but not METH combined with one of the other MDxx drugs. If you are sold an 'ecstasy' pill containing METH, you should demand your money back (if the dealer is trustworthy) or anonymously report them to the police. (No, I don't think that's being harsh. People that sell METH as 'ecstasy' are human garbage and deserve to be behind bars with large gentlemen named "Bubba" and "Jimbo".) According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, about 2.5% of 'ecstasy' pills contain a mixture of MDMA and METH, while 3% contain only METH.

DXM (dextromethorphan): This legal cough syrup ingredient is also seen with some frequency. It's psychoactive at high doses. A DXM pill is a deliberate attempt at a rip-off, and dealers selling them should be dealt with accordingly. The test kit can usually identify a pill containing DXM.

Ketamine: Rarely sold as 'ecstasy', Ketamine is a sedative used for veterinary surgery. It used to be used for humans as well, but FDA approval was withdrawn after patients began reporting having hallucinations while they regained consciousness. Combining ketamine and MDMA in a pill is stupid and should be regarded as another rip-off attempt, with the seller being dealt with accordingly (baseball bats or police, as your inclinations carry you.) The test kit does not identify ketamine.

Caffeine, Ephedrine, Psuedoephedrine: Seen with some frequency, these ingredients are relatively inactive and safe, and should be regarded as another rip-off.

Legal Psychoactives: Occasionally legal chemicals like 5-MeO-DIPT and piperazines have been sold as 'ecstasy', but this is likely to end with the recent banning of these drugs in the US. When these "research chemicals" have appeared, it's almost always been as a pure pill (so the test kit will identify them as not being real 'ecstasy'.)

PMA: para-MethoxyAmphetamine is rarely seen, although there was a small seizure of gelcaps containing PMA in the US in early 2004. The last time a large batch of PMA hit the streets, it killed about 20 people. The main problem seemed to be that it took over an hour to kick in (vs. 30-40 minutes for MDMA), so users would think they had gotten weak pills when nothing happened in the first hour, take a few more, and overdose. I doubt this one will appear again in large ammounts: Anybody manufacturing or selling PMA would be hunted to the ends of the earth by the users, dealers, and drug enforcement agencies alike: PMA is cursed by the drug using community. The test kit does not identify PMA specifically, but would have shown that most of the PMA pills seen in the past were not real MDMA.

Heroin: Some dealers claim such a thing is common. They are morons. (Although there is a lesson in this: You can't really trust the dealer to know what's in a pill. Some are reliable, others are not, but all are strongly opinionated.) There has been some suggestion (based on a missunderstanding of the metabolic pathways involved) that heroin might significantly slow the metabolic breakdown of MDMA. This is not the case. At least one pill containing heroin was sent to ecstasydata.org. Although it did indeed contain heroin, it did not contain MDMA or any similar drug, but did contain aspirin and Prozac. If you take a close look at the pill, you can see that the logo on it sticks out, and the pressing quality is very low. This appears to be somebody's idea of a joke: A couple common medications crushed up, a little heroin tossed in, and mashed together with a cheap hand press. No self-respecting manufacturer would have used such low quality pressing dies, much less crushed up aspirins as the binder.

     (Speaking of people's idea of a joke, many years ago when methamphetamine was relatively new on the public's radar, one of the evening news shows went in search of the scoop on this new drug scare. Two of the people they encountered were self-proclaimed meth users who showed the eager reporters how 'street meth' was made: They crushed up some Sudafed on the sidewalk (literally on the street), spit on it, poured a little lighter fluid on it, and stirred it around with a stick. "That's how you make street meth" they deadpanned to the reporter. The reporters of course didn't get the joke. Instead, they went on at some length about how horrible and unsanitary a drug this 'street meth' must be, never suspecting that they were simply being made fun of by the 'dumb druggies'.)

LSD, cocaine, mescaline: LSD and Mescaline have never been found in 'ecstasy' pills. There have been a few isolated cases of pills containing cocaine (1, 2) and MDMA (and a few pills containing only cocaine that might be mistaken for 'ecstasy' tablets.)  Cocaine actually counteracts MDMA (it blocks the serotonin transporters) so it simply doesn't make sense to use it as a cut; meth is cheaper and more effective.   Sometimes dealers will describe a pill as containing LSD or mescaline to explain it's more 'psychedelic' qualities (such as an MDA pill would produce.) Although famous, mescaline is actually extremely rare in the drug trade.

Rat Poison and Crushed Glass: Just another one of those urban legends, like giant alligators in New York's storm sewers. It wouldn't surprise me if this legend is courtesy of the same sort of people who brought us the 'street meth' story, but only the hoaxer knows for sure. (Once upon a time a pill containing strychnine was reportedly found, but no other pills like it ever showed up, nor were there any cases of strychnine poisoning reported, making it likely that it was either yet another prank or somebody was trying to poison a particular person.)

     Illegal drug manufacturers live in an environment of almost pure capitalism; they have every reason to want to keep their customers happy and safe, both to avoid retaliation and keep business. In the end, we get out of the system what we demand out of it. Don't tolerate fakes or adulterated pills. I'm not suggesting you go break an offending dealer's legs yourself (although I wouldn't condemn it either), but at the least complain, and if complaints don't move them, report them to the police.

 

• People often assume that a pill was cut with some other drug if they have a bad reaction to it, such as a panic attack.  This isn't necessarily the case; real MDMA can itself cause dramatic side effects. In spite of a somewhat common perception that 'ecstasy' deaths are due to other drugs being mixed into the pills, deaths from pure MDMA can and do occur. Guessing what a drug was from the subjective effects is usually very unreliable unless you have considerable prior experience with the suspected drug.

 

Well, now I'm scared!

     There's no need to be. Check EcstasyData and Pill Reports, get a test kit yourself, and buy from people you trust. With the exception of PMA, 'fake' pills aren't particularly dangerous...just a disappointment if you wanted MDMA. The testing lab results also probably make things seem worse than they are, since people send in pills they think might be fake. Pills known to be good are likely to just be used and not reported.

Where do people get MDMA, anyway?

     The smart-ass answer is 'everywhere!' The more practical answer is that a lot of drug sales are peer-to-peer. What that means is you express an interest to a few people you trust (if you want to be careful) or just outright say you're looking for something. If you're a young person, the odds are very high that you know somebody who knows somebody who can help.

     If your immediate peer group doesn't know where to get some, get out and socialize. It's not fair to say that ravers are necessarily drug users (one poll found that only about one in three was) but it's a rare regular raver that doesn't at least know somebody who can get MDMA and other drugs. Visit clubs, hang out, ask around. Your chances of being ripped off are considereably higher in random encounters at clubs; the best supplier is one you know and can find again, since they have a personal interest in keeping you happy if only for repeat business.

     If you're an older adult, you may think nobody you know uses drugs. There's a good chance you're wrong. After all, people don't normally admit to behavior that they think you might disapprove of. If you bring up the subject and express a genuine interest, you might be surprised how many 'nice, respectable people' will admit to past and even current drug use.

     If you had the necessary lab skill and government permits, you could synthesize your own.

What does MDMA cost?

     Prices can vary quite a bit. Typically in the US, you're looking at $15-$25 a pill. Sometimes you can find pure MDMA powder (I hear prices in the range of $100+ a gram.) The Drug Enforcement Agency suggests MDMA pills cost about 25-50 cents to manufacture. Prices are much lower in Europe; in some cases good pills can be had for a few dollars each.

Besides testing it, is there any way to tell if a pill is real MDMA?

     Not for sure, but here's one odd piece of trivia: MDMA has an odd root-beer/black licorice smell. There has been some debate regarding the source of this smell; some say it's from letover safrole, although I think the far more likely suspect is a waste product called 3,4-methylenedioxyphenylpropan-2-ol. MDMA also has a very bitter taste, but so do many drugs so that's not much help.

What's a 'double stack' or 'triple stack' pill?

     Physically larger pills. The name (and usually the dealers) imply that they contain 2-3 times the usual amount of MDMA. Don't fall for it–the size of a pill doesn't reliably have anything to do with how much MDMA is in it. Most of the weight/bulk of pills is from binders; food-safe chemicals used to hold the pill together.

What is "Molly"?

     Slang for "molecular". In theory, "molly" is high purity MDMA powder. This form is increasing in popularity and availability (several readers have reported that MDMA powder is easier to get than pills in some parts of Canada.) Dosage and other considerations are the same as for pills.

How much MDMA is in a pill?

     That can vary quite a bit. Traditionally, an 'ecstasy' pill has been assumed to contain about 100 mg of MDMA, but in recent years this number has dropped to about 70 mg. (Article.)

Is MDMA a "designer drug"?

     No. The phrase "designer drug" was first used by politicians to describe new forms of Fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opiate. The government outlawed the first form of fentanyl. In response, the drug cartels started selling a slightly modified kind of fentanyl, which retained the effects of the original drug, but because its chemical structure was slightly different, it was not actually the drug that had been outlawed as "Fentanyl," and hence, was legal. To combat this phenomenon the Drug Analog laws were created, which made a drug that had essentially the same effects and basic structure of an illegal drug illegal as well, without being explicitly outlawed.

     People in the press often think that "designer drug" means that a drug's structure was planned to create a desired subjective effect. That's not entirely off base, but as a practical matter every new drug is a crap shoot in terms of what it will do. Sometimes you can take a good guess, sometimes you can't, but nobody is so skilled (yet) that they can take your wish list of what you want a drug to do and simply design a product to suitr.

     At any rate, MDMA was not invented as a legal substitute for an illegal drug. MDMA as a chemical has been around at least since 1912, and it was known to be psychoactive as early as 1953, with the first known recreational use occurring by 1970 or earlier.

Is MDMA a form of Methamphetamine?

     No. The structure of MDMA is similar to that of METH, as indicated by its full name (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) but the effects are quite different. Where METH is primarily a dopaminergic drug, MDMA is primarily a serotonergic drug. In terms of structure, MDMA is further from METH than the decongestant Sudafed is; small differences in structure can make big differences in effects.

Are these other drugs like PMA the result of botched attempts to make MDMA?

     Small amounts of MDA or MDEA could result from using impure chemicals in an MDMA synthesis, but the others could not accidentally occur. When PMA appeared, it was intentionally made; it could not result from a failed MDMA synthesis. Generally, the choice of which drug to produce is based on the chemist's interests and availability of chemicals. When a group chose to make PMA, they did so because the chemical needed to make it (4-allylanisole) was more readily available than the chemical needed for MDMA (safrole), which is tightly controlled. In that case, the government's success in restricting access to chemicals cost the lives of about twenty young people by Erowid's count.

How should MDMA be stored?

     Secretively. (Ha ha.) MDMA is quite stable, chemically speaking, and can be stored for very long periods of time. (Shulgin, who was largely responsible for popularizing MDMA, once said that it was so stable that if they had put some in the pyramids with the pharaohs it would still be good today. True to urban legend form, it wasn't too long before the story was spreading that Ecstasy had been found in the pyramids. No, not quite, but it's an interesting example of how misinformation can accidentally be created and spread.)

      Still, it doesn't hurt to give it some care. It's hard to go wrong with the standard advice of an air-tight container (an empty prescription or over-the-counter drug bottle is fine), stored in a cool dark place. Beyond protecting your stash from the elements, be sure to protect it from the human elements: Do you really want your parents/roommate/etc. to find them? There have also been several cases of toddlers being poisoned after they found and ingested a loose 'ecstasy' pill. All made a full recovery, but you should take care that nobody finds your drugs who shouldn't. Hide them somewhere very out of the way or, ideally, in a locked container such as a file cabinet or safe.

Can (drug sniffing) dogs detect MDMA?

     Certainly. Heck, humans can often smell it. Not all dogs are trained to spot MDMA (most of those that are focus on smuggling/shipping ports, not casual users.) Another popular question is "if I walk by a drug sniffing dog with some pills on me, will he smell them?" That depends on a lot of factors. If you're carrying a few pills in an air-tight container (ideally having washed the outside of the container and your hands with soapy water) the dog might no be able to smell it. As a more practical matter, drug dogs don't actually give much attention to when they smell drugs unless their handler has ordered them to search. If a dog isn't currently in 'search' mode, you could probably walk by it with a backpack full of heroin and the dog wouldn't alert. After all, they're around drugs a lot, and need to behave when the people with the drugs are police, etc. doing their job.

So...if the dogs can smell it, how does so much get into the country?

     Because a dog can only smell something exposed to the air. Smugglers know this, and have become patrons of vacuum-packing machines (like you see on those late-night infomercials.) A smuggler might vac-pack the drugs, wash everything off thoroughly, and just send it off via Fed-Ex. Given the huge profit potential of getting MDMA from Europe to the US, there are probably a lot of people doing just that.

 

Drug Interactions/Drug Mixing

     Some medications and other recreational drugs don't mix well with MDMA. Here's a brief list of drugs and concerns:

Drug:
Issues:
Opinion:

Prohibited/Recreational Drugs

Amphetamines (speed, crystal meth, etc.)

 

Mixing MDMA with other amphetamines increases the risk of heatstroke, hypertension, heart attack and death. Mixing amphetamines may also increase the risk of neurotoxicity, which is highly dependant on overheating to occur.

Never mix MDMA with other amphetamines. Now, you may be thinking "I know lots of guys that did that and were fine." True, it probably won't kill you. But you won't catch me doing it.

Alcohol (and other sedatives such as GHB, etc.)

Can greatly increase the degree of intoxication while making the user less aware of it. Large amounts of alcohol mixed with MDMA can produce bizarre behavior with no memory of it the next day. Mixing stimulants and depressants can allow the user to unwittingly take dangerously large amounts of either since they counteract each other's effects. There have been some unexplained deaths involving mixing alcohol and MDMA. Most people that end up in the emergency room after using MDMA were mixing it with alcohol.

Many people enjoy the combination, but if you chose to use alcohol with MDMA, do so with moderation. Getting stinking drunk then dropping a few pills is a sign of world-class stupidity in my opinion and the gods of natural selection may punish you for it. Sedatives can be useful to 'take the edge off' after coming down off MDMA.
Cannabis (marijuana) and hashish:

Many MDMA users enjoy this combination, but not necessarily at the same time. A small amount of pot before taking MDMA may reduce nausea and anxiety (if the user isn't entirely comfortable with using MDMA). If used simultaneously the two drugs may not mix well and/or interfere with each other. Smoking a large amount of pot while high on MDMA can be counterproductive and unpleasant.

Believed to be safe, but go with one or the other at a given moment in time (you may not enjoy the combination.) Many pot smokers report that it's a pleasant way to relax after coming down from MDMA.
LSD
The combination of LSD and MDMA is popularly called "candyflipping." Beware: These drugs are synergistic (a small amount of MDMA and a small amount of LSD can have a strong effect when taken together.) Not known to be particularly dangerous, but watch the dosage or you may have a stronger trip than you planned.
Psilocybin ("Magic Mushrooms")

Called "Hippieflipping", effects might be amplified by mixing with MDMA (like LSD.)

Be careful with dosages; you might get hit harder than you expect.

Cocaine

At first glance it seems obvious that cocaine would pose the same dangers as amphetamine. However, cocaine aggressively competes with MDMA for access to the neurotransmitter transport proteins, and in doing so can actually blunt the MDMA high.

Interaction risks are unclear, but there have been a fair number of deaths involving MDMA and cocaine mixing. Best avoided.
Heroin and other opiates (Oxycodone, etc.)

Anecdotal reports are rare and mixed. Some users liked the combination, some report that it's very unpleasant and disturbing. There have been disturbing reports of a trend towards using heroin to deal with residual stimulant effects after the MDMA high passes.

The general idea of mixing stimulants and sedatives strikes me as odd: Did you want to be down or up? Safety unclear, but like cocaine there are a good number of deaths involving the combination. Opiates are highly addictive.

Prescription Drugs
Birth control pills
A common issue with birth control pills is whether or not another drug will interfere with them. MDMA is not known to interfere with birth control, but the combination hasn't been properly researched. Given the large numbers of young people using both, I think we would have heard more about it if there were a problem (but don't hold me to it.) If you take your birth control pill shortly before taking MDMA there is a chance of throwing up the birth control pill as well if the MDMA causes you to vomit.

Wellbutrin

(bupropion)
Wellbutrin is a rather strange antidepressant drug.  In the short term it affects norepinephrine, but as metabolites of the drug build up, serotonin is strongly affected as well. Reports from the combination of Wellbutrin and MDMA have been very mixed.  A majority of users report that MDMA is partly to completely blocked by Wellbutrin, but some users report no interference, and there have been a few cases of potentiation (where the effects of the MDMA were much stronger than expected.)  Use caution: If you are determined to mix these drugs, start with a low dose and don't be surprised if nothing happens.

Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, other SSRIs and SNRIs

(see Note)

Drugs that inhibit serotonin reuptake (often prescribed for depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, etc.) will block MDMA's ability to work. The degree of interference varies by person, SSRI, and dose, but as much as a 70% loss of MDMA's effects seems to be common.

Although the combination of MDMA and SSRIs/SNRIs doesn't seem to be particularly dangerous, they usually prevent the user from getting high from MDMA.

Adderall
See Amphetamine.  
Viagra (sildenafil)
Viagra is sometimes taken by ecstasy users to overcome the common problem of impotence in men while under the influence of MDMA. Viagra actually causes a drop in blood pressure, not an increase. Viagra is not completely safe even by itself; around sixty deaths were reported in the first year of its availability. Given that Viagra tends to reduce blood pressure while MDMA increases BP, it's not clear what additional risks (if any) the combination might pose. There have been anecdotal reports of unpleasent reactions to the combination; start at a low dose of viagra (25-50 mg) if you try the combination.
MAOI drugs

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters like dopamine and/or serotonin (depending on the type of MAOI.) As a result, dopamine/serotonin levels can become dangerously high if an MAOI is combined with drugs that release dopamine/serotonin (such as MDMA.) MAOIs have sometimes been prescribed for depression; if in doubt, ask your pharmacist if a medication you are taking is an MAOI.

Never combine MDMA with an MAOI. There are some possible exceptions to this rule, but unless you're absolutely sure you know what they are, avoid the combination like the plauge.
Over-the-counter medications.
DXM (Dextromethorphan.)
Commonly found in cold and cough medications, DXM is sometimes used recreationally (it is hallucinogenic at high doses.) DXM may reduce your body's awareness of overheating, and interferes with the breakdown of MDMA by competing for the CYP2D6 enzyme.
Potentially dangerous; avoid.
Caffeine, Ephedra, Psuedoephedrine.
Stimulants used for alertness, weight loss and as decongestants, these drugs increase pulse and blood pressure. Combining them with other stimulants may increase the rise of heart attack, stroke, heatstroke.
Potentially dangerous; avoid using large amounts of these drugs with MDMA.
Antihistamines.
Some antihistamines may actually somewhat enhance or interfere with MDMA, presumeably by interacting with receptors or transport proteins.
No clear medical implications.

 

 

 

On to Preloading (Supplements and Antioxidants.)

 

 


Note:

     I've heard from a number of people who wish to take MDMA in the hopes that it might help their depression, but are currently taking an SSRI or other drug that interferes with MDMA. On the one hand, in some cases MDMA experiences can do a great deal of good for emotional problems. On the other hand, going off an SSRI is not something to be done lightly, especially if there are serious underlying emotional problems that the SSRI is being used to control.

     Generally, about a week of abstinence from these medications should allow for a near-normal response to MDMA. However, these antidepressants all produce some form of withdrawal symptom in regular users, sometimes severe. Talk to your doctor about ways to minimize withdrawal symptoms before going off an SSRI or other anti-depressant.