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).
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
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.)
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
the 'fire' of the MDMA experience. The test kits cannot distinguish
between MDMA and MDEA.
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,
approval was withdrawn after patients began reporting having hallucinations
while they regained consciousness. Combining ketamine and MDMA in
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
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
with the recent banning of these drugs in the US. When these "research
have appeared, it's almost always been as a pure pill (so the test
kit will identify them as not being real 'ecstasy'.)
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
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
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.)
Enforcement Agency suggests MDMA pills cost about 25-50 cents to
manufacture. Prices are much lower in Europe; in some cases good pills
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
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 itthe 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
What is "Molly"?
Slang for "molecular".
"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
fentanyl. In response, the drug cartels started selling a slightly
modified kind of fentanyl, which retained the effects of the original
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
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
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
but the effects are quite different. Where METH is primarily a
dopaminergic drug, MDMA is primarily a serotonergic drug. In terms
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
a failed MDMA synthesis. Generally, the choice of which drug to produce
is based on the chemist's interests and availability of chemicals.
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
How should MDMA be stored?
Secretively. (Ha ha.) MDMA is quite
stable, chemically speaking, and can be stored for very long periods
(Shulgin, who was largely responsible for popularizing MDMA, once
said that it was so stable that if they had put some in the pyramids
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
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
of toddlers being poisoned after they found and ingested a loose 'ecstasy'
pill. All made a full recovery, but you should take care that
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
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
drug dogs don't actually give much attention to when they smell
unless their handler has ordered them to search. If
a dog isn't currently in 'search' mode, you could probably walk by
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
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
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:
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,
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
in my opinion and the gods of natural
selection may punish
you for it. Sedatives can be useful to 'take the edge off' after
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
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
|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.
|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.
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.
Birth control pills
|A common issue with birth control pills
is whether or not another drug will interfere with them. MDMA
not known to interfere with birth control, but the combination
hasn't been properly researched. Given the large numbers of young
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 is a rather strange antidepressant drug. In
the short term it affects norepinephrine, but as metabolites of
drug build up, serotonin is strongly affected
||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.
Paxil, other SSRIs and SNRIs
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
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.
|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.
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
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.
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
Potentially dangerous; avoid.
Stimulants used for alertness,
weight loss and as decongestants, these drugs increase pulse
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.
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
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