What’s Really in That Ecstasy? You’d Be Surprised, and Not Happy.

At the same time MDMA is showing promise as a PTSD therapy, ecstasy is being cut with all sorts of nasty chemicals on the street.

MDMA — you know, ecstasy — use is once again on the rise. A recent UK/EU survey found that 2.1 million people aged 15-34 had used X in 2016. In the U.S., the National Institute on Drug Abuse says one out of ten people between 18 and 25 have taken ecstasy, and even middle schoolers are getting in on it, with 7% of kids 12 or older having consumed the illegal Schedule 1 drug.

It’s not all fun and festivals, though: There’s a dark side to the “hug drug.” A 2016 White House study reported that more than 22,000 people were hospitalized after taking ecstasy, and deaths from psychostimulants in general have skyrocketed from 563 people in 1999 to nearly 4,300 in 2014. Ecstasy, it turns out, does not always equal MDMA — it’s actually cut with nasty stuff that may be contributing to the problem.

MDMA — 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — is nothing new. It was patented over a hundred years ago, in 1913, reportedly as a diet drug that was never brought to market. The euphoric effect it produces was discovered by chemist Alexander Shulgin in the 1970s. He shared his discovery with psychologists friends, and it’s currently showing promise as a co-treatment for PTSD. 

So what are recreational users of ecstasy/MDMA really taking? American Addiction Centers has been looking into this and have just released Adulterants in Drugs, an eye-opening study. Apparently one’s chances of actually obtaining pure-MDMA ecstasy are a lot lower than you’d think: only about 45%.


We’re not talking subtle amounts of adulterants, either. It’s not uncommon for an ecstasy dose to contain no MDMA at all.


A study from PillsReport.net discovered that only about a third of the 25,725 ecstasy tabs they examined from six countries were pure MDMA, and in these pills, there was never more than 69% of it.


In some locations, there was more MDxx than MDMA being sold as ecstasy — this group of MDMA-like chemicals produces a similar effect, as does a substance called PMA. PMA, though, is slower to take effect than MDMA, and impatient users have been known to overdose trying to hurry it along.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of adulterants is getting worse.


Meanwhile, researchers are looking into pure MDMA as a valuable supplement to psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD. In November 2016, the U.S. F.D.A. approved large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA as a follow-on to six promising Phase 2 studies funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, who will also fund the Page 3 trials. 

Psychotherapy is currently the accepted treatment for PTSD, but often doesn’t work, as the process can be so excruciatingly painful for patients. MDMA, which produces a flood of neurotransmitters, including serotonin that produces a sense of well-being, and hormones like oxytocin and prolactin can apparently take the edge off the experience. Oxytocin, the “love hormone,” in particular, can increase the emotional connection between patient and therapist.

The New York Times spoke to C.J. Hardin, a veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who’d tried psychotherapy, group therapy, and other medications before participating in an MDMA clinical trial. “It changed my life. It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation and finally process things and move forward.”  

Too bad there’s so little of the stuff in ecstasy.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less