A love letter to a beautiful drug....

User's GuideMDMA Science
CAUTION: Lung damage from snorting MDMA

There’s been a recent medical report of a young man who died from snorting what seems to have been a very large amount of MDMA powder.   While the exact mechanism of death isn’t clear to me, there was clear evidence of severe damage to his lungs from the MDMA powder, which seems to be the result of vasoconstriction (greatly reduced local blood flow caused by MDMA tightening blood vessels) combined with the irritating/acidic properties of MDMA powder (‘molly’).

Snorting drugs has a long history of causing damage to the delicate tissues of the sinuses, but this is the first case I’ve seen where serious damage was caused directly to the lungs by snorting MDMA.  Although the risk is probably low (the young man in question seems to have taken a spectacularly high dose), it’s something for users to think about.

The safest way to take MDMA (and most other drugs) is orally, by swallowing the drug.  The digestive system is fairly tough, having evolved to handle all sorts of nasty things (like poisons, spoiled food, bacteria, etc.)

 

Ask The DEA: Can you mix MDMA (molly, ecstasy) in water or other beverages?

Certainly (it dissolves easily), although alkaloids (MDMA and many other drugs) are often very bitter-tasting.   If you don’t mind the flavor, MDMA itself is a fairly stable molecule; it should last a long time in liquid form (probably until the beverage ‘went bad’ and mold or other microorganisms ate the MDMA.)  Taking MDMA this way might cause it to take effect a little faster than usual (since it’s already dissolved), but otherwise the effects will be the same as taking a pressed pill or capsule.

Having a bottle of water (or juice or who knows what) spiked with MDMA does create a danger of accidental poisoning.   Somebody (such as a small child) might drink it without realizing that the odd flavor is a sign that something isn’t right.  So if you do want to drink your molly, be careful not to leave the spiked beverage sitting around where others might find it!

Can you die from real MDMA?

Fake pills and fake ‘molly’ (MDMA powder) have been a big problem, but it is possible for even genuine, pure MDMA to cause death, even without the user making a mistake like drinking extreme amounts of water or mixing drugs.   Although MDMA overdose deaths are quite rare, they can be spectacularly ugly.  MDMA can reduce blood flow to your skin, which makes it harder to lose heat to your surroundings.  It can also greatly increase metabolism, causing your body to produce a lot more heat.  And since you’re high, you may not notice that something is wrong.  As a fatal overdose progresses, you tend to severely overheat.  This overheating starts to cause the breakdown of a lot of tissues, including the clotting mechanisms that stop bleeding.   You begin to bleed internally, while at the same time your muscles begin to break down, dumping a lot of toxic junk into your bloodstream.  All this ‘pollution’ overwhelms your already heat-weakened kidneys and liver, poisoning them.   You would typically suffer, fall into a coma, and die of multiple organ failure.

It might be tempting to think that overdosing on a drug as enjoyable as MDMA might be a nice way to go, but it’s one of the nastier deaths recreational drug use has to offer.   If you believe somebody has overdosed on any drug, get them prompt medical attention!  Call emergency services (like 911 in the US) without worrying about the consequences.  Angry parents and medical bills are never as big a problem as being dead.

So, yes; real MDMA can kill you.   The safest thing to do is not use drugs, but the next best thing is to use in moderation.   Try to stick to a single, moderate dose of MDMA; resist the urge to keep re-dosing to stay high all night long at a party, and try to know what you’re taking in terms of the strength of pills or dosage of powders.

Is MDMA (Molly, ecstasy) illegal? Can I get MDMA from my doctor?

Yes, MDMA is generally illegal to make, have, or sell.  As usual, the United States was the driving force behind the global ‘drug war‘ against MDMA, convincing the UN to add it to an agreement that most member UN nations follow (to varying degrees.)  As a result, MDMA is more or less illegal in most (possibly all) countries.

There are exceptions for research and for prescription use, but MDMA hasn’t been approved yet as a prescription medication.  So, you can’t get it from your doctor yet (but you might be able to in 5-10 years.)  If you feel you might benefit from MDMA therapy, there’s a chance you might qualify to take part in one of the MAPS research projects.

Can drug dogs smell acid (LSD)?

It’s an old and common belief that LSD is “odorless and tasteless”.  Neither is quite true.  The reason people think it doesn’t have a smell or taste is simply because a tab of acid contains such tiny amounts of LSD that there isn’t enough for a person to smell or easily taste it. (For example, a gram of MDMA contains perhaps eight doses.  But a gram of LSD contains around 10,000 doses!)  But, if you get a large enough amount of it together even a human should be able to detect a smell to the drug.

So, it does have a smell.  How much LSD would you need to have on you in order for it to smell strongly enough for a dog to detect?  I can’t find an answer to that, I’m afraid, although it seems likely that in the usual scenario (a user with a couple tabs in a plastic bag) there seems to be no real chance of enough LSD getting into the air for a dog to pick up the scent.  (But most people carrying LSD will also smoke pot, which gives the dogs something much easer to smell on you and your clothes and alert on, even if you don’t have marijuana in your pockets.)

The more interesting question might be “are dogs trained to look for the smell of LSD?”  Sometimes, yes (they even make a ‘fake LSD’ scented substance for training dogs.)  So, there are certainly some drug dogs out there that have been trained to spot a shipment of LSD.  However, dogs are not trained to spot ‘drugs’ as a category.  Instead, they are trained to identify specific drugs. For instance, a dog might be trained to ‘alert’ when it smells marijuana or cocaine.  (Usually an ‘alert’ involves scratching at whatever the scent is coming from, but it varies.  Some dogs are trained to sit down next to the item and wait.)

Most dogs will be trained to spot several different drugs, but it’s rare for a dog to be trained to spot a large variety of drugs.  Most dogs simply can’t reliably be trained to do it, and each drug that the dog has been trained on requires consistent re-enforcement (you have to keep training the dog to look for that smell, as well as making sure it’s going after the right smell and not something else, like the smell of a plastic bag.)

As a result, most dogs will only alert on a couple of different drugs.  (If they’re trained on drugs at all; search dogs at airports, for instance, are often looking for food/animal products or explosives and wouldn’t react if they came upon a kilo of heroin.)  And, while LSD is certainly illegal and law enforcement has an interest in stopping it, it’s also one of the less common drugs and a low priority.  Most drug sniffing dogs will not be trained to identify it; it isn’t worth the trouble.

The drug sniffing dog is one of the most notoriously abused police tactics:  A dog handler can easily get the dog to ‘alert’ on command, giving them an excuse to search people they merely suspect or dislike.  Always say that you refuse to allow you or your property to be searched (but never physically resist); if the police officer has a legal right to search you they won’t ask.  For more information on what your rights are, check out Flex Your Rights.

Can I give my dog molly (MDMA)?

Uhhh. Probably, but…

The first question is “can a dog get high on MDMA the way a human can?” The experience might not be quite the same for a dog, but the areas of the brain (and the chemistry that controls them) involved in how drugs work are evolutionarily ‘highly conserved’. Which is to say, the wiring tends to work pretty much the same in dogs, rats, humans, etc. There’s also been a lot of research on MDMA’s effects on other animals that suggests they feel something similar to what we feel at recreational doses. So far so good; from a strictly neurological standpoint a dog can probably ‘roll’ (get high) on MDMA.

The first problem is dosage. Different animals can be more or less sensitive to a drug, and that’s before taking into account questions of the size of the dog, any health issues they might have, etc. A wrong assumption could result in a fatal overdose for your dog. MDMA overdoses can be a spectacular death; your body temperature runs out of control, you start to bleed internally, and your organs break down one after another. It’s a horrible way to go for any creature, human or otherwise.

Assuming you could figure out what the right dosage is, your dog might not handle getting high very well. There’s a famous case from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA project (where random people were poisoned with LSD, among many other strange and terrible things.) One of their victims had a very, very bad trip and eventually ended up committing suicide. It’s not safe to assume a dog won’t panic on the come-up and have a horrible experience.

Your dog also can’t explain it to you if something is wrong; if they had a bad reaction to the drug, you might not realize anything was wrong until it was too late to help them.

So, please don’t experiment on your pets. If you’re lucky, they might have fun. If not, they may be severely traumatized or even killed.

Have a question, crazy or otherwise?  Feel free to contact me.  Or, swing by the Bluelight forums and join the discussion!

Is molly different these days because of a new way of making it?

Probably not.  In recent years MDMA synthesis has shifted from using safrole and other traditional precursors as their starting material.  A chemical called PMK glycidate became popular as the starting material since it wasn’t regulated by law enforcement.  This has led some people to speculate that MDMA made with this new method might have a different balance of isomers.  Isomers are slightly different forms of the MDMA molecule, much the way a right and left shoe are almost identical, but mirror images of each other.  One isomer called S(+) is a powerful dopamine releaser and could be thought of as the euphoric ‘fire’ of MDMA.  The other isomer, R(-), is mostly a serotonin releaser and could be thought of as the warmth and empathy of the MDMA high.  MDMA sold on the streets is “racemic”; an equal mix of both isomers.  Chemists end up with a mix of the two isomers because the synthesis process isn’t selective; whether a given molecule will be created as one isomer or the other is random.

The traditional precursor (PMK, also called MDP2P) doesn’t come in isomers; there’s only one form, which gets randomized to either S(+) MDMA or R(-) MDMA during the synthesis process.   PMK glycidate (the starting material for the currently most popular method) has a bias; each molecule starts out as one isomer or another.   This has led some people to wonder if this couldn’t result in batches of MDMA that were (for instance) all or mostly just one isomer or the other.

However, the process for turning PMK glycidate into MDMA starts by breaking down the glycidate, turning it back into plain PMK (MDP2P), which eliminates any bias towards one isomer or the other (by eliminating what chemists call the chiral center.)

As a result, the end product is still randomly formed, giving a 50:50 mix of both MDMA isomers.

Which seems like it would solve the debate, but there is one potential catch:  The new method might in some cases introduce new contaminants that could, in theory, affect the high.  But, that shouldn’t be even a theoretical issue if the drug is properly purified during production.

Most cases of ‘weak molly’ are probably due to drugs that have been cut with other powders to make more money, or they could be entirely different drugs (such as the various ‘research chemicals’, drugs that the government hasn’t gotten around to outlawing yet.)  If you have a suspicious pill, there are excellent home testing kits, and you can even send it in to a lab for professional analysis through EcstasyData.org

Lab testing of ‘molly’, ‘ecstasy’, and MDMA powders and pills generally suggests that the MDMA supply these days is more trustworthy, purer, and stronger than ever before, but of course caution is always a good idea.

Have a question?  You can e-mail me, or join the discussion at Bluelight.

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Prohibition

The origins and results of the ‘War on Drugs’

US Drug Enforcement Agency 1% effective (1/2/06)

Over at the other DEA, they hoisted champagne this New Year’s in celebration of their most successful year yet of hunting down drug-trade profits. According to Administrator Karen Tandy in remarks on C-SPAN, “up to” $1.9 billion in drugs, cash, cars, etc. were seized over the past year, representing about 3% of the total annual wealth produced by the US drug trade. (The most recent White House estimate I can find puts the total trade at about $65 billion a year.) When only drug seizures were counted, the total haul for the year was $477 million; well below 1% of the entire drug market. Tandy hailed this record level of seizures as proof that the drug war was working.

Roaring success is all a matter of perspective, it seems. 1% effective. You just can’t make these things up. If the Emperor has any clothes on, it’s no more than a G-string.

(Though perhaps the bigger lesson is ‘if you have a question, make an effort to properly research the answer.’ I had a question (how effective is the DEA?) I found the answer. And now it’s a part of the DEA Wikipedia page. And it’s never going away. Mwahahahah….)

The Mystery of 'Meth Mouth'

Long-term use of meth can take a heavy toll on a person, of course, but few examples of meth wear-and-tear are as graphic as the sort of severe tooth deterioration seen here. (Photo from TeethPictures.org.)

Usually the mainstream ‘authorities’ will tell you that this happens because of all the horrible, toxic chemicals used to make meth, like drain clog removers. The real story is a bit more complicated, so hold down your lunch and let’s talk tooth science!

Bacteria like to live on our teeth, since they get fed whenever we eat. In order to make sure they can (literally) stick around in the mouth the bacteria turn sugar into the sticky stuff we know as plaque. The metabolism of the bacteria creates a lot of acid as a waste product.

The outer layer of a tooth (the white part we see) is enamel. The enamel is mostly a crystal of calcium phosphate, which acid can slowly eat away. Our body’s main defense against this damage is saliva, which helps to wash away the acid being produced by bacteria before it can do too much damage. That’s why sugar-free gum can actually help prevent tooth decay: Chewing gum increases saliva production. Our main behavioral defense is brushing our teeth, since brushing can remove most of the bacteria and plaque that have built up during the day.

Heavy meth use is a sort of perfect storm for tooth destruction. It reduces saliva production (part of a water-conserving stress response that also contributes to hyponatremia deaths among ecstasy users), making it easier for acid levels to build up. People on a binge tend to have lousy nutrition (sugary drinks like soda seem to be particularly popular), and personal hygiene tends to be neglected (so the bacterial population isn’t being held in check by brushing.) Heavy meth users tend not to visit a dentist, either for regular checkups (or even when there clearly is deterioration.) As a result, the bacteria are free to run wild, creating a lot of acid to break down the user’s teeth.

‘Meth mouth’ can happen no matter how you get the drug into your system, although smoking probably makes things even worse, since the meth itself contains some acid. (The acid acts like tiny magnets, holding the meth molecules together into crystals. If you removed the acid, you would have methamphetamine freebase, which is an oily liquid; a bit hard to transport and sell.)

Stimulants like meth (and ecstasy, for that matter) also tend to cause bruxism (clenching and grinding your teeth.) This can wear down enamel by itself, can create grooves in your teeth that make a great hiding place for bacteria to grow in, and in severe cases can even crack the enamel (after all, it’s a crystal.)

If you’re going to use meth (or any other drug), I think the best advice is to be very careful about the frequency of use creeping up over time. Addiction doesn’t simply leap into existence over-night. Nobody gets addicted from one dose. Instead, you get hooked a little bit at a time, slowly and subtly enough that you usually don’t even notice it’s happening until it’s too late.

The only entirely safe drug use is not to use. If you do use, safer drug use means limiting dosages and the frequency of use. Pay attention to how often you use, how much you take, and whether you’re getting cravings to use. If your usage (or side effects) creep upwards over time, take a break for several months. If that seems like too much of a sacrifice, that’s all the more reason to be afraid of where things might be going.

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.

See: What is Molly? The history of MDMA.

Depressed, Anxious Children More Likely To Try 'Ecstasy' (1/1/06)

Reporting on the results of a study of 1580 Dutch children over a 14 year period, researchers have found that depression or anxiety problems during childhood doubled the likelihood that a child would eventually try ‘ecstasy’. This result is consistent with earlier findings that psychological problems in general increased the likelihood of ‘ecstasy’ use later in life.

This correlation between childhood emotional problems and drug use is not in of itself new, although detailed data of the connection between specific problems and ‘ecstasy’ use is. Given that emotionally troubled people are also at greater risk of drug addiction, childhood mental health intervention may prove to be an invaluable tool for combating drug abuse and addiction later in life.

Read the journal article.

Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Use of Psychedelic Tea (Ayahuasca) (2/21/06)

In an 8-0 ruling led by the conservative new Chief Justice Roberts, the US Supreme Court has struck down government efforts to prevent the religious group O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) from importing and using ayahuasca (‘huasca’), a hallucinogenic tea containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT, a Schedule 1 drug.)

The use of ayahuasca for shamanic practices and healing rituals dates back thousands of years in South America. The UDV church was founded in Brazil, combining Christian teachings with the shamanic traditions of the rain forest’s native peoples. There are about 130 members in the US (although the church has a far larger presence in Brazil.)

The group came under fire when customs intercepted a shipment of the sacramental tea (apparently 14 previous shipments of the drug-laced liquid had gone unnoticed.) Faced with the loss of their central religious sacrament and threats of arrest, the Church sued the US government, claiming that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a law passed in 1993 primarily to protect the rights of peyote using Native American tribes) exempted them from the Controlled Substances Act (which outlaws DMT.) The government countered that there was a compelling interest (as required by the RFR Act) to stop the use of ayahuasca to 1. Protect the health of Church members; 2. Prevent diversion of the tea to the black market; and 3. To uphold international (UN) drug control treaties. The court ruled that the government had failed to make a convincing argument on any of these grounds, upholding the decision of a lower court that the Church had the right to practice their religion by using ayahuasca.

While certainly a triumph for the UDV, this ruling may also pave the way for other religious groups who use psychoactive drugs as part of their practices (such as the Rastafarians, who use marijuana, albeit in a less ritualized manner than the UDV uses ayahuasca.)

Read the Supreme Court Ruling

The curious case of the missing 'date rape drug' victims (9/15/05)

Lurid tales of drinks spiked with incapacitating drugs have long been a press favorite, whipping up public hysteria over drugs like GHB and Rohypnol, in spite of such cases paling in numbers compared to alcohol-facilitated rapes. British researchers, however, have recently thrown some doubt on the scale of the problem in the form of a study of the toxicology results from over a thousand people who believed that they had been drugged in order to make them vulnerable to sexual assault. (These are people so sure that they had been drugged that they went to the police and were drug tested.)

Of the 1,014 alleged drugging victims, only 2% (21 people) tested positive for a drug that they had not knowingly taken. The data has it’s limitations; because some drugs are rapidly broken down and eliminated, all of the common sedatives could only be conclusively eliminated in a third of the cases. Still, the research paints a very surprising picture: The vast majority of people who believe they have been drugged (‘spiked drinks’ and the like) were simply victims of their own excessive drug and alcohol use. None the less, if you believe you may have been drugged without your knowledge, don’t wait to go to the police or a hospital; the longer you wait, the more likely the evidence is to be lost.

Abstract.

Pre-publication copy of article (without data tables.) (Sorry, haven’t been able to get a PDF of the published form.)