A synthetic process for the creation of MDMA was patented in 1914 by Merck in Darmstadt, Germany (Shulgin, 1990). MDMA was not, as is sometimes thought, intended as an appetite suppressant. It was most likely developed as an experimental compound. Except for a minor chemical modification mentioned in a patent in 1919, there is no other known historical record of MDMA until the 1950s. At that time, the United States Army experimented with MDMA. The resulting information was declassified and became available to the general public in the early 1970s. These findings consisted primarily of a number of LD50 (median lethal dose) determinations for a variety of laboratory animals.

Humans probably first used MDMA in the late 1960s. It was discovered as a recreational drug by free-thinking individualists (New Age seekers), people who liked its properties of inducing feelings of well-being and connection (Watson & Beck, 1986). MDMA does induce feelings of warmth and connectedness, and using this rationale, its use was promulgated by therapists in the 1970s (Shulgin, 1990). Before the compound became illegal in 1985, it was used extensively for this purpose (Beck, 1990).

Although for an organic chemist, the synthesis of MDMA is reasonably simple, most supplies in the United States are imported and then distributed by organized crime networks. Its price, usually $25-40 for a 125-mg tablet, the amount producing the sought-after effect in most intermittent users (Green, Cross, & Goodwin, 1995), has remained remarkably stable over the past two decades. This high price makes adulteration attractive to the criminal element. Such adulteration can be dangerous when the substance used is something that is physiologically dangerous. Paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMA) has been sold as MDMA, and in those unfortunate enough to consume both substances, appears to be highly dangerous.

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