What Is Ecstasy?

Get the facts about this club drug, aka Molly or MDMA

An example of ecstasy pills. The colour, size and imprint on ecstasy tablets varies across batches.. Image © Farmer Dodds, Flickr

What exactly is ecstasy (Molly), or 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)? Ecstasy is a synthetic drug that produces feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and distorted sensory and time perception. 

Ecstasy comes in a tablet form that's often imprinted with graphic designs or commercial logos. People usually take it as a capsule or tablet, though some swallow it in liquid form or snort the powder.

The popular nickname Molly (slang for "molecular") refers to the supposedly "pure" crystalline powder form of MDMA. Yet, most often, people who purchase powder or capsules sold as Molly often get other drugs like synthetic cathinones (bath salts), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some of the most colorful slang terms are used for Ecstasy or MDMA, based on the name of the drug, effects and appearance, including: 

  • Adam
  • Beans
  • Candy
  • Clarity
  • E
  • Essence
  • Happy Pill
  • Hug Drug
  • Scooby Snacks
  • Lover's Speed
  • X
  • XTC

The History of Ecstasy

First synthesized in 1912 by the Merck pharmaceutical company, in Darmstadt, Germany, ecstasy was patented in 1914. Contrary to popular belief, it was not intended as an appetite suppressant, but as an intermediate chemical for the preparation of other pharmaceuticals.

Ecstasy was one of several drugs tested in a military context decades later. It was then re-synthesized, first by Gordon Alles, then by Alexander Shulgin, who tested it on himself, his wife, and his friends.

He went on to develop a range of new compounds, with varying effects and risks, including MDMA and PMMA, many of which end up as versions of street ecstasy today. It was many years after this that MDMA eventually appeared on the streets as a recreational drug.

Using and Abusing Ecstasy

Ecstasy was briefly explored as a therapeutic drug, as some psychotherapists believed it opened people up and enhanced their potential for empathy and understanding of each other.

This use was interrupted by the criminalization of MDMA, and the view that ecstasy can reliably enhance the therapeutic process has now fallen out of favor in the psychotherapeutic community.

An earlier version of ecstasy, MDMA, became popular as a recreational drug among hippies in the 1960s, and spread to the gay scene in the 1970s. In 1980s, MDMA became fashionable on the Acid House nightclub and rave scene.

However, due to concerns about the health risks associated with ecstasy, it was made illegal in the United Kingdom in 1977, way ahead of its popularity in that country. It was made illegal in the United States in 1985, at which time it was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, according to the Controlled Substances Act.

For a few years, different versions of ecstasy were synthesized in an attempt to circumvent the law, which was the basis of the designer drugs movement. This was eventually outlawed, but re-emerged as a problem in the 2000s with the popularity of homemade crystal meth.

Despite a number of high-profile deaths associated with ecstasy use, and the illegal status of the drug, a sub-culture of ecstasy users continue to use the drug, mainly in the nightclub, rave, party and festival scenes.

Sources:

Collin, C. and Godfrey, J. Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. New York: Serpent's Tail. 1988.

Johnson, D. Meth: The Home-Cooked Menace. Hazelden: Center City, MN. 2005.

Stevens, J. Storming Heaven. London: Paladin. 1989.

Continue Reading