What is Ecstasy?
Ecstasy is a slang name for the chemical substance methylene dioxy methamphetamine, or MDMA, that combines a powerful stimulant with a hallucinogen. MDMA is chemically similar to the synthetic stimulant methamphetamine.
Street "Ecstasy" could contain just about anything. It is generally manufactured in clandestine labs by criminal drug dealers, not chemists. Ecstasy usually comes in tablets, which have been found to contain anywhere from 0-50% MDMA. The most common non-MDMA ingredients in "Ecstasy" are aspirin, caffeine, and other over-the-counter medications.
One of the most dangerous additives commonly found in "Ecstasy" is DXM (dextromethorphan,) a cough suppressant. In the doses usually found in fake Ecstasy, 13 to 14 times the amount found in cough syrup, DXM can cause hallucinations. DXM inhibits sweating, so it can cause heatstroke and death. Another dangerous adulterant in so-called Ecstasy is PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine), an illegal drug that is a potent hallucinogen. Like MDMA, PMA causes an elevation in body temperature, but at an even more drastic rate.
Ecstasy tablets may be any color, and are generally embossed with a logo or design such as a butterfly, heart, lightning bolt, star, clover, or Zodiac sign. Ecstasy is sometimes found in powder or in capsules.
More than 90 percent of the ecstasy in the U.S. comes from the Netherlands and Belgium, where the drug is also illegal. The drugs are smuggled into the U.S. through parcel services or on commercial airline flights. Recently, more and more "homegrown" labs are being discovered where drug dealers make Ecstasy and methamphetamine.
The process of making MDMA/Ecstasy is extremely hazardous, and the chemicals used to make it are difficult to obtain. In addition, it is easy to make errors during the process, which can cause poisoning, leaking of toxic fumes, and explosions. At the same time, however, the process can seem simple to someone with a bit chemical training and a lot of criminal intent. The labs used to make MDMA/Ecstasy can be rigged up from common articles and can be easily moved from place to place in a container as small as an ordinary steamer trunk.
The seeming simplicity of production has led to numerous uneducated crooks into cooking up compounds similar to MDMA/Ecstasy and selling them as the "real thing." A police officer involved in a recent North Carolina arrest described the Ecstasy cooks as "self-taught." None of them had a chemistry degree or formal chemistry experience, "They got the directions out of books and stuff, but if they'd turned to the wrong page or something, they could have mixed the wrong things and killed people."
Drug labs have been found in barns, mobile homes, motel rooms, houseboats, mini-storage units, and basements of ordinary homes. Unlike real pharmaceutical laboratories, these labs have no guidelines for cleanliness or scientific procedures. Even if no adulterants are purposely added to the mix, any number of contaminants could enter the product due to the inadequate facilities and filthy conditions.