Ecstasy, or MDMA (also known on the streets as Mandy or Molly) is of the phenethylamine and amphetamine classes of drugs. It is reported to induce an imagined state of euphoria, a heightened sense of intimacy with others, lowered anxiety and other effects. In the past, the drug has been suggested in the psychology and cognitive therapy fields as having positive effects, and clinical testing is currently being practiced to decipher whether or not MDMA can help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety related to terminal cancer, and even addiction.
Ecstasy has a long, convoluted history that began in 1912 when the drug was synthesized by German chemist Anton Kollisch. Kollish was working at the pharmaceutical company Merck at the time trying to develop a substance that would curb abnormal bleeding. He was granted a patent for the drug two years later. By 1927, Merck researchers were performing tests on animals and reporting that the effects of the drug were similar to those caused by adrenaline. By 1953, the United States Army became involved in experiments with MDMA (though unclear, it is suggested that the Army was performing tests in hopes of creating non-lethal chemical weapons or interrogation tools, or a drug used to keep aviators alert).
1965 was a big year for MDMA. Chemist Alexander Shulgin of Dow Chemical had pulled in a large profit for Dow as a result of his research involving a biodegradable insecticide and was, in return, granted permission to pursue research in a field of his choice; he chose ecstasy. A professor at the University of California, Berkley, Shulgin didn’t try the drug himself until around 1976. Blown away, he published the first report of the drug’s psychotropic effect in humans stating it spawned “altered states of consciousness with emotional and sensual overtones that can be compared to marijuana and to psilocybin devoid of the hallucinatory component”. From then on Shulgin ingested MDMA routinely, referring to it as my “low-calorie martini”.
Shulgin was so impressed by the drug’s capabilities that he began handing it out to friends and colleagues, particularly those in the psychoanalytic fields. One such friend was psychotherapist Leo Zeff. At the time Zeff was given the drug, he was about to retire. However, he was so awestruck that he halted his retirement and began schooling other psychotherapists across the US and Europe on MDMA’s ability to reduce anxiety, lower patients’ defenses and increase their ability to tap into their own psyches. At the time of Zeff’s death, close to 4,000 therapists were using MDMA. Their administration of the drug was kept under the radar until Michael Clegg, a former seminary student began to openly sell it (he even had a 1-800 number where orders could be placed) around Texas. Referring to himself as an “Ecstasy Missionary,” Clegg was delivering close to half a million pills per month – until the Drug Enforcement Agency caught on to the fact that so many people were getting high without the threat of arrest.
As a result, the DEA proclaimed an Emergency Scheduling of MDMA into Schedule 1, the most restrictive class of drugs along with drugs like heroin and cocaine, until it could decide where the drug should be permanently scheduled.
Hearings began after the DEA appointed Judge Francis Young to oversee the case and after about a year, Young decreed that MDMA was safe for use under medical supervision, did not have a potential for addiction, and should be placed no higher than Schedule 3. In rebuttal, the DEA called Judge Young biased and shortsighted, and left MDMA as a Schedule 1 drug. In March, 1988 the DEA permanently declared Ecstasy as a Schedule 1 substance, where it remains today.
Since the 1980’s, Ecstasy has been most popularly used in nightclubs and rave parties in major cities around the US. It also still remains under the scientist’s microscope. Esteemed MDMA researcher George Ricaurte has reported that even a common recreational dose of the drug could cause severe, irreversible brain damage and even Parkinson’s-like symptoms. “It’ll eat holes in your brain,” he says. Nevertheless, Molly continues to be used by teens and adults as enhancement drugs during concert-like events and high-intensity social gatherings.