The History of X
MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, beans, rolls, or just plain X. This drug has a long history, which began almost 90 years ago. In 1912 Merck, a German pharmaceutical company, first synthesized MDMA (Erowid). MDMA was then patented in 1913 or maybe 1914 (patent #274.350) by the same German company supposedly to be sold as a diet pill (The Invention). The patent has no mention of any intended uses of the drug. There are other urban legends associated with Ecstasy, such as in 1953 the US Army tested MDMA as a possible truth serum, but there is no evidence for this (Saunders).
“The father of MDMA – or ‘stepfather’ as he describes himself- is Alexander Shulgin (Saunders).” This man is responsible for the modern research of MDMA. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Shulgin then received a research job with Dow Chemicals (The Invention). Sometime in 1965 Shulgin synthesized MDMA, but he did not try it himself, yet (Erowid). Then somewhere around 1968 he began working with MDMA personally and introducing it to other people (Erowid). But, it wasn’t until he heard raving reviews from other experimenters who has also synthesized and tried MDMA that he began his own experiments (Saunders). “Shulgin is also the first reported human to use MDMA (The Invention).
Shulgin then goes on to describe how he gave some of the drug to a friend who was about to retire from his career as a psychotherapist. Shulgin then began traveling the country introducing MDMA to other therapists and teaching them how to use it in their therapy (Saunders). All of the therapists Shulgin introduced the drug to began in the same way, taking the MDMA themselves (Saunders). The psychotherapists felt that they had no right to give a psychoactive drug to another person unless they themselves knew how the drug effected their own minds (Saunders). The testing going on between the therapists caused this drug to became readily available on the street as a recreational drug sometime during 1977 (Erowid). “Those first psychotherapists to use MDMA were keenly aware that they had found a valuable new tool.” As one put it “MDMA is penicillin for the soul, and you don’t give up prescribing penicillin, once you’ve seen what it can do (Saunders).” The therapists had agreed to due do much of their research in an informal process as possible so that the government would not criminalize the drug due to public attention (Saunders). They did this very well until about 1984, when it gradually became known as a fun drug during the bubble burst (Saunders).
One of the most significant obstacles that had to be overcome in order to commercially exploit MDMA was that is had already been patented. Even though the patent ran out many years ago, a drug cannot be patented a second time (Saunders). Before marketing a new drug, a company is required to show that the potential side effects are justified by the drug’s benefits as a medicine, which involves long and expensive trials (The Invention). There is only one way to recoup that expense – obtaining the exclusive rights to sell the drug through holding its patent (Saunders). “Those years 1977 through 1985 are looked back on as the ‘golden age’ of Ecstasy or Adam as it was then known (Saunders).”
In the years previous to 1984 the drug was still legal and being used largely among students in the USA under its more well known name “Ecstasy” (Saunders). This public and unashamed attention is what caused MDMA to be outlawed (Saunders). During 1985 Ecstasy jumped into the media’s eye when a small group of people sued the US Drug Enforcement Agency to try to prevent them from outlawing MDMA (Saunders). This came at the wrong time, because the year before there had been a widely spread disaster, involving other pharmaceutical drugs, which made authorities overreact to any new drug scare (Saunders). As a result of this scare, the US Congress passed a new law which allowed the DEA to put any drug thought to be a danger to the public on an emergency ban (Saunders). On July 1, 1985, MDMA was temporarily put on a ban (The Invention). What made it even worse was that it was put in Category One, which is restricted for damaging drugs with no medical uses. The temporary ban lasted a year, during which a hearing was set up to decide what actions should be taken. (Saunders). This case led to the judge recommending that MDMA be placed in a less restrictive category, Schedule 3. This would have allowed for the drug to be manufactured, to be used on prescription and to be the subject of research. But on March 23, 1988, the recommendation that had been made by the many psychotherapists to keep Ecstasy legal was ignored and MDMA was placed in Schedule 1 (Erowid).
The therapeutic use of MDMA has been outlawed for the last thirteen years, but steps are still being taken for MDMA to become a prescription drug (Saunders). A non-profit organization called The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) opened a Drug Master File for MDMA in 1986, which allowed the research of MDMA to continue. In 1993 the FDA approved testing on human volunteers of the drug known as Ecstasy; this is the first time since the drug was outlawed that this occurred (Saunders). Now only time will tell what will come of the research.