Synthesis: How MDMA is made

According the DEA, the primary way MDMA (Molly/ecstasy) is made is ‘via the ketone’. But what does that mean?
The synthesis of MDMA must not be attempted by anybody who doesn’t have the necessary legal permits (or you’ll end up in prison) or practical lab skill (or you may end up wasting your time and money, blowing up your home, and poisoning yourself.)

Reaction Overview:
The ‘ketone’ approach has numerous reported variants. The basic scheme is the oxidation of the plant oil safrole (1-allyl-3,4-methylenedioxybenzene) into a ketone (3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone), which is then condensed with methylamine and reduced to the final MDMA product.

diagram of common mdma molly ecstasy synthesis pathway

Step 1: Peroxyacid oxidation (requires isomerization of safrole) or Wacker oxidation (catalytic oxidation) produces the ketone (3,4-MDP2P.)
Step 2: Reversible imine formation (occurs spontaneously when the ketone is placed in solution with methylamine.)
Step 3: Reduction (via hydrides, aluminum-mercury amalgams, or electrical cells) or catalytic hydrogenation permanently converts the imine to MDMA.

Safrole is found in various “essential oils”, the most famous of which is sassafras oil, which can contain as much as 90% safrole. Safrole, the ‘ketone’, and of course MDMA itself are all restricted in the US and most other countries. The wholesale price for safrole is about $7 a pound…an amount that could produce perhaps 5,000 MDMA pills worth on the order of $50,000 at ultimate US retail prices.

So long as large sums of money are involved – and they are bound to be if drugs are illegal – it is literally impossible to stop the traffic, or even to make a serious reduction in its scope.

-Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist.

George washington on dollar bill smoking a joint